I think Melania Trump may have a new stylist. Her recent trip to India saw a real departure from the constrained and constraining suited and booted look that she has been encouraged to adopt - one at odds with her Style Personality - to something fluid, softer and all together more relaxed. And she was visibly much the happier for it. Boarding Air Force One in a black turtle neck and checked pants , she disembarked many hours later in a wonderful crepe and silk white jumpsuit by French-American costume designer Herve Pierre, perfectly complemented by a moss green and gold embroidered sash which celebrated early 20th Century Indian textile heritage.
I am a big fan of sartorially honouring your host when making official visits such as these. Indeed I think even on a lesser, more modest occassion it is a nice touch to acknowledge, through your apparel, your surroundings and your event. So my (hitherto unheard of) sympathies go out to Ivanka Trump who having opted for an almost entirely Indian inspired wardrobe for her attendance last month at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit has been accused of cultural annexation. Where, I found myself musing, was the line between culturally appropriate dress and cultural appropriation? And I think the answer is in the intent.
Ivanka’s outfits ranged from a mother-of-pearl embroidered jacket ( worn in Hydrabad, City of Pearls no less) to a long-sleeved, round-necked gown with stylized gold floral embroidery to her final kurta dress. She abandoned her love of pencil skirts and high heels and adopted modest wear in an attempt to make her clothes part of the content of her communications.
The criticism though – and here’s the rub – is that this was a careless nod to the culture as seen through the eyes of outsiders, that she was leveraging fashion for political capital and that this was a disingenuous and superficial assimilation of culture; this argument fueled further by the fact that despite Ms Trump’s speech on the importance of female empowerment and equality, the company that bears her name is believed to employ low wage workers in several countries including – yes, you guessed it – India.
At one point in her 2 day, 6 outfit tour Ivanka was seen sporting a Sherwani inspired outfit by designer Anita Dongre, not dissimilar to a similar creation by the same designer worn by Kate Middleton during her trip to Pakistan last year.
Middleton’s outfits were, without exception, faultless throughout the Pakistan tour and I saw no negative commentary or accusations of cultural misappropriation in the press that covered the trip. I suspect that the apolitical position enjoyed by Royalty affords them a certain innocence; politicians (and certainly politicians in the current First Family) have no such integrity or purity of purpose.
My conclusion? Dressing has the power to impress and offend in equal measures. Who wears what - and why – really matters.