Melania Trump took in Monday’s eclipse in a Jason Wu dress, according to Vogue, which called the First Lady’s frock “a polished choice for the global event.” The article is the latest in a steady stream of posts detailing the wardrobe of Mrs. Trump – who is, according to the New York Times, “becoming a quiet force inside the White House” – all of which are categorized under the heading, “Celebrity Style.”
These articles - at least a handful of which are not limited to significant diplomatic events, such as state dinners or official visits, and all of which uniformly steer clear of any discussion of political policies - appear to be business-as-usual for the website of America’s most established fashion glossy. Vogue's website routinely covers the fashion choices of the the web's most traction-garnering individuals, including Kendall Jenner, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Kaia Gerber, and apparently, Melania Trump, in order to attract clicks. It is a website with advertisers and traffic goals to maintain, after all, and it seems Mrs. Trump is good for business.
Having said that, there is an argument that in regularly covering the fashion-centric happenings of the Trump administration, Vogue’s staff is merely reporting and operating as a neutral publication that takes on both sides of the political aisle, and is not endorsing Mrs. Trump, and thereby, the views of her husband. The contrasting point of view in this argument - one that has played out countless times on social media over the past several months - is that Vogue is in some way “normalizing” the Trump administration (and directly benefitting from the clicks that such posts entail).
This has certainly been a common claim on various social platforms in response to Melania Trump-related articles, and others, such as, “Who Is Dina Powell? Ivanka Trump’s Right-Hand Woman Is a Rising Star in the White House” and more recently, “From Gossip Girl Spin-Off Cover Model to White House Communications Director, What to Know About Hope Hicks.”
Additionally, Vogue’s regular coverage of Trump administration fashion/lifestyle matters is noteworthy, as it appears to run afoul of the general sentiment that brands, corporations, and in certain circumstances, even publications, should take a stance on the current administration, in particular – and make that stance crystal clear – in light of Donald Trump’s increasingly offensive views on everything from women's and LGBT rights to racism and immigration.
As Quartz’s Marc Bain aptly tweeted on the heels of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank stepping down from Trump's manufacturing council just after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and attack – and Trump’s initial failure to specifically acknowledge and decry white supremacy – “Brands can't stay neutral today. Customers demand they choose sides [and] values.” This growing sentiment dates back to the election and the Muslim ban, as well, though.
It is exactly this overarching expectation that has led no small number of members of Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative to publicly step down and distance themselves – and their companies – from the Trump administration.
3M President and CEO Inge Thulin, for instance, was one of the Council members that very overtly stepped down. In conjunction with an official announcement from 3M – which stated that “At 3M, we will continue to champion an environment that supports sustainability, diversity, and inclusion – Thulin tweeted, “I'm resigning from the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative because it's the right thing for me to do.” In a directly subsequent tweet, Thulin quoted Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, writing: "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
In a statement publicized by Campbell Soup, the company’s CEO Denise Morrison stated in connection with her resignation from the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, "Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville,” a direct response to Trump’s “there are two sides” statement.
These are just two examples of brands taking sides as of late – but within the fashion industry, the divide has been long-forming. In fact, it was Vogue - which openly stated in October that it “endorses Hillary Clinton for president of the United States” - that got the ball rolling. A number of other publications, such as Glamour and W, among others, followed suit, as did a small army of designers, who went so far as to speak out against dressing the First Lady.
One of the first to make her position known: Sophie Theallet, who shared an open letter in November, writing, "I will not participate in dressing or associate myself in any way with the next First Lady. The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband's presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by."
She was joined by Marc Jacobs, Joseph Altuzarra, Christian Siriano, Phillip Lim, Derek Lam, Opening Ceremony and Kenzo co-creative director Humberto Leon, Naeem Khan, Tom Ford, and Zac Posen, among others, who have been vocal from the get-go about not wanting to dress the First Lady, in most cases due the views of her husband.
And it appears Jason Wu – the designer that Melania Trump chose for the eclipse is taking sides, as well. On Monday evening, Wu’s brand opted out of shedding light on Trump’s dress choice, retweeting a photo of Michelle Obama – during Barack Obama’s presidency – in one of the brand’s dresses, instead.
Others have been less eager to rock the boat. Gucci, which maintains a stole lease in Trump Tower in New York, is one of the brands that has been less forthcoming. The Italian brand opted to remain mum after Melania Trump wore a Gucci blouse and trousers to one of the presidential debates in October. It did, however, make headlines this past week after “Gucci workers in similar-looking dark suits” were photographed standing in Trump Tower holding signs against the window that read, “Hate has no home here.” According to Jezebel, Gucci's public relations teams “repeatedly denied that [the individuals] protesting white supremacy” were, in fact, Gucci employees.
Vogue, as a publication, is - very arguably - in a bit of a different boat than brands, though. (Do note: One could absolutely make a case that Vogue operates much more like a brand than a bias-free publication). It will be damned if it does potentially appear to "endorse" the Trump administration by covering Mrs. Trump's wardrobe (hence, the claims of "Normalization!"). It might also be damned if its does take a stand against Trump's political views by ceasing to feature such content ("Media bias," others might cry).
Yet, it is here, between the rock (of allegations of normalization) and the hard place (of potential assertions of a lack of neutrality - although Vogue is not necessarily a beacon of bipartisanship, as a fashion magazine it does not necessarily need to be), that Vogue finds itself, at least, in theory.
How does the magazine justify its arguably complimentary coverage of Trump-related matters (as distinct from some of its more in-depth and critical articles, such as "Donald Trump's 25 Worst Lies From His First 200 Days” and "Look, It's Time to Collectively and Officially Give Up on Ivanka Trump."), you ask? It is citing past practice. As the magazine's editor-in-chief Anna Wintour told the WSJ in February, "We have a tradition of always covering whoever is the first lady at Vogue and I can't imagine that this time would be any different."
With all of this in mind, do you believe that even though it has not explicitly aligned itself with the Trump administration by way of the words in its articles, Vogue's neutrality - after the election, after the Muslim ban, after Charlottesville - could be the magazine picking a side? If so, then you are not alone.
A spokeswomen for the magazine did not immediately reply to a request to comment. A spokesman for Gucci, however, stated: “In response to an inaccurate report by a US media outlet, in which protesters in New York City were misidentified as Gucci employees, Gucci immediately contacted the outlet to make a customary correction. This US media outlet instead misinterpreted the company's intent to clarify this error, inferring that the request reflected Gucci's position on the protest. Gucci believes in and stands for equality in race, religion, sexual orientation and gender. With respect to the recent racially motivated events in Charlottesville, Gucci condemns any form of hatred, racism and intolerance, including the ideologies of the white supremacist movement.”
* This article was updated on August 24 to include the statement from Gucci directly above.