Melania's First Lady portrait draws flak

Mrs Trump wore Dolce & Gabbana, an Italian brand, passing on an opportunity to promote US fashion

NEW YORK • This week, the White House released the first official portrait of the First Lady, Mrs Melania Trump, now displayed on her government webpage.

Though the picture at first seems bland enough, it is worth a second look - both for the image itself and for what she chose to wear to represent the country for posterity.

A black tuxedo jacket with a foulard around her throat. From Dolce & Gabbana.

The White House declined to confirm or name the designer of the jacket she is wearing, but Stefano Gabbana posted the official portrait on his Instagram with the words #DGWoman, #MelaniaTrump Thank you and #MadeinItaly. The jacket, it turns out, is one of Dolce & Gabbana's signature pieces.

It is a surprising choice, not only because the official portrait is an occasion that has been considered an opportunity to promote national industry (as opposed to Italian industry) or because it seems to undermine her husband's mission to get everyone to "buy American", but also because it confuses what is otherwise a pretty straightforward visual message.

Taken by Belgian photographer Regine Mahaux, who has worked with the first family for the past five years, it depicts Mrs Trump with her arms crossed and the beginnings of a smile in front of a large decorative window in "her new residence at the White House".

United States First Lady Melania Trump in a Dolce & Gabbana jacket for her first official portrait as First Lady.
United States First Lady Melania Trump in a Dolce & Gabbana jacket for her first official portrait as First Lady. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Along with the jacket, she is wearing an emerald-cut diamond ring on one hand and a diamond band on the other.

Her hair is loose. Her make-up is neutral. The focus is soft. She looks expensive and professional, less as if she is saying, "Hey, welcome to the people's house!" than "This is a job and I am ready for it."

The styling and setting create something of a riposte to the suggestion that she has been, and may continue to be, a bit of an absentee first lady. They perpetuate the Trump narrative of winning, wealth and aspiration - despite the President's assurances to working men and women that he feels their pain.

And the symbols do so while visually at least placing her pretty carefully in the traditional continuum of her predecessors.

She is wearing black, as former first ladies Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton did. She is in a suit, like Mrs Laura Bush and Mrs Clinton were. She is posed in front of the same window as Mrs Nancy Reagan in an early official White House photograph and, like Mrs Reagan, is wearing a bow of sorts around her neck. So far, so safe.

Admittedly, Mrs Trump has eschewed the more relaxed attitude of Mrs Obama and the usual flowers that have often peeked out from one side of the frame.

And though the Internet has gone into something of a frenzy, as the Internet tends to do when it comes to anything Trump, over the apparent amount of airbrushing, the extent to which her facial lines have been erased is not really all that different from what came before.

It is the brand that the digital squawkers should be focusing on.

This is not the first time Mrs Trump has worn Dolce & Gabbana (she chose a black dress by the brand at the Mar-a-Lago New Year's Eve party, causing a brouhaha), nor is it the first time she has worn a European label since her husband made his inaugural pledge to buy American. (She wore Givenchy and Christian Dior to events at Mar-a-Lago in February.)

But this time, she has worn a nonAmerican brand on an occasion that has the sole purpose of immortalising a public representation of her role.

Maybe she is making a subtle statement about the global nature of the world and the antiquated nature of that particular unspoken political rule. Maybe she is saying: I will play this part, but only up to a point.

Maybe it was just a jacket she has owned for a while and wears when she wants to feel secure, so she shopped her closet to be her best self.

Maybe she and others hoped no one would find out who made the jacket if the White House did not release the name of the designer - or that no one would care.

Mrs Trump's director of communications said the First Lady's office had no statement about the portrait or the choices involved, besides the official quotation that came with the release: "I am honoured to serve in the role of First Lady and look forward to working on behalf of the American people over the coming years."

The problem is, while sometimes a jacket is only a jacket, given the context, this particular official image is not one of those times.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Melania's First Lady portrait draws flak'. Print Edition | Subscribe