Last week, designer Sophie Theallat hoped to lead a fashion-industry boycott of the Trump White House by declaring — pre-emptively — that she would not provide Melania Trump with any of her creations. The world responded by asking … “Who’s Sophie Theallat?” A somewhat more familiar name responded by wondering why partisan politics has anything to do with fashion. Tommy Hilfiger hasn’t yet been asked, but said he’d be “proud” to dress the new First Lady:
Hilfiger and wife Dee Ocleppo were among those attending the Angel Ball at the Cipriani Wall Street. When asked what he thought of Theallet’s refusal to dress Trump, he responded with compliments for the former model.
“I think Melania is a very beautiful woman and I think any designer should be proud to dress her,” Hilfiger said. “Ivanka is equally as beautiful and smart, although she wears her own clothes. I don’t think people should become political about it. Everyone was very happy to dress Michelle [Obama] as well. I think they look great in the clothes. You’re not gonna get much more beautiful than Ivanka or Melania.”
Of course, there are a couple of big differences between Hilfiger and Theallat. Hilfiger doesn’t need publicity stunts to get press coverage, and he’s much more likely to be invited to work with Melania anyway. Women’s Wear Daily tried reaching out to other name designers, but they seem even less inclined to mix their business with partisan politics. It looks like Theallat’s boycott is working as one would expect, especially in a cutthroat industry like fashion.
In fact, WWD finds some evidence that Theallat’s stunt might end up backfiring:
Angela’s, a designer boutique in Rye, N.Y., is angry about Theallet’s open letter to designers. Owner Angela Guitard sent Theallet an e-mail Monday morning calling the designer’s move “a slap in the face” to herself as a U.S. citizen, and said she would not carry her collection in her store. …
Guitard told WWD that she used to carry Theallet’s collection, but stopped carrying it about two and a half years ago. She said her husband is also French and has been in the country 25 years and became an American citizen last year. This was the first election he could vote in.
“I feel very strongly that he [Donald Trump] won the election, he is our president-elect and you have to respect who the people voted for,” Guitard told WWD. She said she would drop any designers who refuse to dress Melania Trump. She said she hasn’t heard back yet from Theallet, who has dressed First Lady Michelle Obama during the past eight years.
Theallat doesn’t have to work with the Trumps if she doesn’t want to do so, and Guitard doesn’t have to carry Theallat’s product if she doesn’t want to do so. Theallat is also free to lecture her fellow designers, who are equally free to lecture her back. If she wants to pout publicly for the next four years, that’s her problem. That’s what a free market allows — consumer choice and free association.
This wouldn’t have any news value at all except for that demonstration of basic freedom. Dress designers can feel free to snub the Leader of the Free World over his politics, and there is at least a theoretical argument that choosing to work with a president even on such a superficial issue constitutes some form of cooperation with an administration and its goals. The same thing is true for bakers and wedding photographers who choose not to participate in nuptials that contradict their religious beliefs. Just as no one should force Theallat to cooperate with the Trumps, no one should force other artists and artisans to cooperate in an event that challenges their own consciences.
If one cheers or defends Theallat, free association in a marketplace is the only basis for doing so. And if free association is good enough for a haute couture dress designer, then it’s good enough for the hoi polloi. Let everyone make their own choices about association in the free marketplace, and let the marketplace provide the consequences of those decisions.