The role of fashion in politics shifts depending on the person, with some congenially conveying messages through the designers or clothes they choose to wear, and others, like First Lady Jill Biden, choosing to be the mother of designers or brands.
Jacqueline Kennedy was in the first camp, using fashion as a tool to attract or divert attention, while setting fashion trends throughout her life. On Friday, the White House Historical Society will host a dedication ceremony in honor of Kennedy at Decatur. It’s the first of two fashion-themed events coming to Washington, DC — the other being the First Fashion Gala, held in October.
Biden is expected at the White House Historical Society ceremony, which will dedicate a new garden with a Chas Fagan-designed sculpture to honor Kennedy’s legacy in restoring the White House and preserving Lafayette Square. Fagan deferred any comment Thursday until after the unveiling. Like it or not, Biden’s and Kennedy’s personal style will likely be referenced in news coverage or by the designer’s representatives. Gabriela Hearst’s team, for example, alluded in the media Thursday afternoon to Biden’s choice of a custom embroidered dress by the designer for an appearance at the Concordia Annual Summit.
Then, in an effort to highlight the power of fashion in the political sphere, the First Fashion Gala will be held on October 12, celebrating the work of designers who have dressed First Ladies and First Gentlemen from around the world. For safety reasons and to avoid party crashers, the location of the event will be revealed closer to the event. Ticket sales from the 350-person event will benefit the non-profit organization Diplomacy and Fashion to help underprivileged students in the United States study fashion and design. The organization’s founder, Indira Gumarova, whose husband, Hynek Kmonicek, is the US ambassador to the Czech Republic, previously worked on a Manolo Blahnik shoe exhibition and a fashion show in the US State Department building. Diplomacy and Fashion also partnered with DC Events to develop a television miniseries about how former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s pins signaled diplomatic messages.
After thinking about how many first ladies there are around the globe, Gumarova said “there was no better place to start this gala” than Washington, DC, where there are more than 200 embassies. She began working on the project a year ago, and the work of designers who dressed first ladies, kings and queens from over 35 countries will be featured.
“Diplomacy and fashion are also the theme of the gala. Fashion is the silent language of diplomacy. It is as powerful as a sign language. It speaks through facial expressions, gestures and visual effects,” she said, adding that a sign language translator will open with a message which will then be highlighted with a fashion show categorized by geography. The organizers are still finalizing which designers will be present.
Naeem Khan, whose designs were worn by Michelle Obama on approximately 28 occasions during her years in the White House, is providing two dresses for the event. The two-part event will also feature an Oscar de la Renta dress worn by Laura Bush in her role as first lady, and a dress that belonged to Edith Wilson, who married the widow Woodrow Wilson during his first term as president in 1915. She was a fashionista. She began to bring French couture into America. She always dressed impeccably, said Gumarova, who also has requests to borrow dresses for the Biden press team and the Kennedy family.
“Fashion in Washington, DC, exists. It’s not like in New York, Milan or Paris. It’s really according to the protocol, [and is representative] different countries, protocol and respect. There’s. It’s just different, Gumarova said.
Fashion is “a silent language,” she said. “First you see people and then they speak. Their dress speaks first and then they give a message. But the message should definitely support the way they dress. If you dress inappropriately, it definitely creates controversy, like Melania Trump’s jacket with “I I really don’t care, do you?” [that she wore in 2018 to visit migrant children in a Texas detention center].”
Gumarova also mentioned how first ladies are known to give interviews to Vogue magazine, although they may not directly address fashion in their comments. Biden has appeared on the cover of Vogue, as has her Ukrainian colleague Olena Zelenska recently, to much controversy. Referring to first ladies’ messages through fashion, Gumarova said: “They definitely use it, and it’s been used for more than a century by Edith Wilson. It continues even now, and every country in the world uses it.”
Ultimately, Fashion and Diplomacy aims to develop the curriculum at colleges and universities on its namesake subject. Talks are ongoing with Marymount College, according to Gumarova.
As an advocate for sustainable fashion, Diplomacy and Fashion educates new diplomats and designers about the role of fashion in diplomacy, and promotes designers. It also aims to inform and celebrate different cultures, as well as the usual gifts, gestures and protocols for makeup, shoes, accessories and everything else. Recalling how Meghan Markle once commented in an interview about how she didn’t know what to wear to meet Queen Elizabeth II or where to look for that kind of information, Gumarova is trying to create a one-stop site for all kind of information about Diplomacy and fashion.
“Everything is connected. And people are watching you, especially in Washington. So suddenly it’s in the news and all over the world. That is why this mission and the gala, and hopefully [college] The courses will be so influential for people all over the world to see how this is such an important topic and it’s high time to talk about it, Gumarova said.