Three months ago almost no one knew who Jonathan Cohen was, but Jill Biden donned his purple coat made from recycled materials on the eve of the presidential inauguration. “We knew how to react on time and make more production to meet orders,” the young designer told the Women’s wear daily newspaper, where he also pointed out a fundamental question: “What is running out on our website are reduced-price products, such as masks”. Something similar happened to Sergio Hudson, who was wearing the belt (not the two-piece suit) that Michelle Obama wore on the day of the inauguration . It is not something new; North American fashion has traditionally moved in the mid-range environment and broadcast lines, and, in many cases, media projection serves to reach wider audiences with more affordable and practical products. It is also a sector that is not going through its best moment, not only because of the obvious drop in sales, but also because, for some years, it has not exported big names in design outside of minority circles and the relevance of its The main platform, Fashion Week in New York, has been forced to reinvent itself to generate the anticipation of yesteryear.
Jill Biden a few days ago visited several nursery schools in Pennsylvania. Hours later Michael LaRosa, her head of communication, summarized these appearances to the press and made a point: from that moment, and of course with exceptions, no data would be given on the marks worn by the first lady. A decision that is controversial, because it reveals contradictory issues. On the one hand, there is the unquestionable fact that no public person who does not live by her image should be obliged to give explanations about her, although on too many occasions for women it derives otherwise: when in 1993 Hillary Clinton made her first appearance as First Lady, the media christened the moment “The Pink Conference.” “She is accused of wanting to soften her image, but if she had worn another shade, she would be accused of something else. The problem is that we do not have a public uniform with which to go unnoticed, “wrote the Washington Post fashion editor, Robin Givhan, a journalist used to reading between the lines and analyzing the implicit messages that the leaders send with their clothing.
It is true that these messages are there and are scrutinized without the need to know the brands that sign the garments. The fact of not mentioning them already launches a very powerful one that has to do with this question of trying to divert the gaze from the aesthetics of women and, of course, with sending a message of austerity and rapprochement to the population in difficult times. It is an idea very similar to that used by the most observed person in Spain, Queen Letizia, when she repeats her outfit and chooses basic garments from more accessible brands. And an idea very contrary to the one launched by Biden’s predecessor in office, Melania Trump, when she shamelessly wore the most exclusive garments, mostly signed by European luxury brands.
Fashion, for the purposes of public opinion, It is still a women’s issue, but it should also be seen as a source of national wealth, both culturally and economically. Only in the United States, the textile market moves close to 350,000 million dollars and, as in the rest of the countries, it is not going through its best moment (the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. begins to set its slow recovery in 2023). A study published in 2010 by Harvard Business Review focused on Michelle Obama and entitled “How the First Lady Accelerates the Market” indicated that each public appearance of Obama generated an estimated global value (of consumption and advertising) of 14 million dollars and each signature that was sporting increased its value, also on average, by 2.3%. In cultural terms, Obama was partly responsible for launching the careers of Christian Siriano and Isabel Toledo globally or for cementing those of Thom Browne and Jason Wu.
Hence, Jill Biden’s decision is understandable, but also questionable, especially if one takes into account the explicit messages that she and the North American vice president, Kamala Harris, have been launching until today. The first, choosing emerging designers with an absolutely sustainable approach (Jonathan Cohen, Markarian); the second, establishing closeness through the pearl necklace / Converse sneaker combo and betting on African-American creators (Pyer Moss, Christopher John Rogers). Perhaps the problem is not in Biden’s decision, but in the social issues that have led him to make it: fashion is still seen as an exclusively feminine field and much of the discourse it generates is reduced to subjective opinions about elegance or style, but fashion is also a source of culture and wealth and a very effective resource to generate debate and open conversations.