Politicians and fashion designers are increasingly teaming up to benefit everyone – WWD

Designers and politicians have long appreciated what can be gained from the occasional alliance.

For decades, American designers and their European counterparts have competed to dress leading political figures and their spouses for key photographic events such as inaugurations, state dinners, weddings and other media-focused occasions. But in the past few years, creatives and policymakers alike have become increasingly aware of how they can help each other.

Gabriela Hearst, for example, isn’t just first lady Jill Biden’s designer of choice: She’s also been involved in the presidential campaign. Prabal Gurung, who routinely dresses Michelle Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris and other high-profile Democrats, was counting on another party insider — his friend Huma Abedin — to present him with a humanitarian award from Fashion Group International at his “Night.” stars” last November.

With millions of social media followings, household names like Ralph Lauren, Christian Siriano, Brandon Maxwell, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and Vera Wang can potentially provide political figures with much more than refined design. While some like the current FLOTUS shy away from pinpointing her preferred designers for select public appearances, the fact that fashion can unite people of all political persuasions is undeniable.

Such alliances inevitably have some overlap with their respective target groups, but more often than not there is an opportunity to attract new people for both parties. David Schweidel, professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, said, “It goes both ways. A politician who collaborates with a designer already has a core of followers. But it’s another way to reach a wider audience that they may not have direct access to.”

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff.

Public social media posts and global media coverage of recent political family weddings — Naomi Biden’s White House nuptials and Tiffany Trump’s waterfront affair at Mar-a-Lago — reflected just how high interest in fashion can soar.

But back to designer-politician bonds: While designers could potentially gain new customers, political figures can attract new donors who want to support their party or specific candidates, especially as microfinance continues to grow in importance. Schweidel said, “Absolutely.” Being based in Georgia, we’ve seen a lot of fundraising through social media from both sides [in the U.S. Senate runoff race]” he said.

As designers increasingly collaborate with political figures for special events, they often align with those who share similar views and beliefs. “Again, it goes both ways. Politicians will be looking to create a partnership that goes beyond the clothes they might get from this designer. If you’re working with a designer who’s known for their work on specific issues, that’s an opportunity to tap into that donor base and make it more than just take-a-photo-to-share-online. They also use it to power their platforms,” Schweidel said.

Acknowledging that social media is a source of information for younger generations not only from a business perspective, but also from a social perspective, he expects designers and politicians to increasingly come together to spread their shared messages. After more than a decade of studying social media, Schweidel notes how we’ve moved from text-based content to video content, which is much more immersive for consumers. Like designers, they figure out how to “crash the runway show [footage] into something bigger so that people get a similar experience, they are trying to go beyond using a still photo of a political figure with their tag. Photographing a designer dressing a politician for an event is a one-off media post, but they’d like to deepen that association with a story or video behind it.

Boston College professor Michael Serazioa expects designers to connect with left-leaning people. “It may be my bias to assume that the fashion industry will lean left. I think this assumption is probably correct on certain issues – environmentalism, LGBQT rights. I wonder how many designers are interested in working with Trump-style Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene or a more conservative politician,” he said. (However, while former first lady Melania Trump has polarized several American designers, others like Ralph Lauren have been ambivalent about dressing political figures over the years. He matched Trump in his own look for Donald Trump’s inauguration and more recently Joe Biden’s eldest granddaughter Naomi for her wedding day .)

“Broadly speaking, there has been a shift in American politics toward the highly symbolic, performative gestures of holding office. This means a look you would see in fashion. There is a school of thought in the current political culture where people vote based on both how their identity is reflected in a particular politician and what policies that politician might espouse,” Serazioa said. “If that’s true, it would obviously make sense to connect with specific designers who might share your values ​​or ideology.”

On the other hand, there are numerous consumer surveys on how people spend based on brand values ​​or targeted marketing. Well aware of recent studies that suggested how shoppers will buy products based on a brand’s political values, he said: “There’s definitely been an increase in brands wanting to engage with more controversial issues, whereas in previous times most brands wanted to sell both sides of the aisle. That’s partly a product of everything — more things being openly politicized.”

A chapter in his book, “The Authenticity Industries,” to be published next year by Stanford University Press, examines how advertisers, politicians, social media companies and entertainment companies try to make things look authentic. “It’s everything from reality TV casting directors to political consultants, brand managers and influencer agencies. It’s basically an argument that America is obsessed with authenticity right now. And behind the scenes in media and culture, there is an entire industry whose job it is to effectively sell the appearance of authenticity,” Serazioa said. “It’s disturbing and fascinating. The interviews were really interesting.”

Rahul Bhargava, an assistant professor of journalism, art and design at Northeastern University, noted that many politicians are taking lessons from influencers and others to gain attention online — whether from the public or the media, and fashion is a big part of that. Referring to research into gendered coverage of politicians, he said: “There is a long history of misogyny and cultivated reporting that hides female politicians in one aspect, downplays them in another, or treats them like celebrities in another.” When we explore them, we see more coverage of fashion than before,” he said.

What causes it? Politicians collaborate more with designers, which brings more coverage. But the opposite trend is to choose clothing that identifies them with middle-class Americans, as he says Michelle Obama and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have done at times. Noting that both women have taken a high-low approach to fashion, Bhargava said the selection of brands and designers can be seen as trying to appeal to different sections of the audience they are trying to reach.

“This is happening more and more. Some of them reinforce their political message and their policies. Another part is something that is very different from being a politician. I think it’s really hard to tell the difference,” he said.

ivanka trump, tiffany trump, lara trump, tiffany trump wedding

Lara Trump, Marla Maples, Tiffany Trump, Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle attend Tiffany Trump’s wedding at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida on November 12.

Courtesy photo

While Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s choice of a Vellies brother gown with a “Tax the Rich” print for the 2021 Met Gala was a fashion statement and a reflection of her politics, Obama’s FLOTUS-era dress code of brands and designers was less about politics and more about image and optics , according to Bhargava. Cinema often follows a similar path with choices that are about optics and identity and not related to political goals, he added. “Obviously, that coverage and perception and conversation happens a lot more to female candidates in social media and online news.”

Photo: NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx 2021 9/13/21 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at Met Gala Celebrating In America 2021: A Lexicon Of Fashion.  (New York City)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a Brother Vellies dress at the Met Gala.


In his view, treating politicians as celebrities has historically been a way to diminish their political standing. “Maybe it will change, but look [2008 Republican vice president nominee] Sarah Palin. Her coverage was a lot [about] he treated her like a celebrity, and that was one way any of her policies were rejected. This is very different from all the female members of Congress wearing white [to the 2019 State of the Union address] referring to the suffragettes.”

But overall, some research has shown that female politicians’ fashion is talked about more than their male counterparts and that they are often downplayed or treated like celebrities, which he says diminishes their esteem. Noting how the late former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used her penchant for brooches to her advantage, Bhargava said Sinema uses fashion more as an influencer — and less as a politician. As our politicians’ identities become more reflective of our complex world, their fashion statements will become more diverse and symbolic of their identities, he said.

“Look at our vice president. She is American, Asian American, in a mixed culture family and she is also African American. That’s a lot of identities,” he said.

As more people like Kamala Harris are elected, there will be a greater effort to figure out how to express these identities through fashion without trivializing their choices as purely what they wear. “They would rather talk about it as a reflection of part of their identity,” Bhargava said.

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