Melania Trump mostly silent in Europe but certainly seen

The visit this week of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump to England, Ireland and France, featured no public speaking engagements from the first lady — a solo event at 10 Downing Street in London with the husband of Prime Minister Theresa May did not include official remarks.

After a dance performance during a brief cultural performance at the airport in Shannon, Ireland, Melania Trump, according to a readout released by her press office more than one day later, said the first lady spoke briefly to the dancers.

“Thank you to the performers for sharing your talents with me this afternoon. Ireland is a beautiful place and I enjoyed the opportunity to experience these unique Irish traditions. Thank you to Shannon Heritage for hosting this lovely event,” she said.

In lieu of the speeches and the public remarks — and perhaps because she has become known as one of the most fashionable women in the world — for Melania Trump, the visuals are even more acute. This may be especially so because she is less publicly verbose than most of her immediate predecessors — for the curious public, sometimes there’s just a visual to chew over.

Reading the tea leaves of her brand of fashion diplomacy was a buzzy pastime this week, both in the headlines of British tabloids and in the background of chats between royal- and Trump-watchers.

“She doesn’t pay attention to headlines,” her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told CNN of the scrutiny.

The first lady herself said last fall during a solo trip to Africa when she was criticized for wearing a pith helmet: “I wish people would focus on what I do, and not what I wear.” A wish, perhaps unfortunately for her, not likely to come true anytime soon, at least while on the global stage.

Regardless, questions remain.

Was the Gucci print dress emblazoned with drawings of iconic London landmarks like Buckingham Palace and the London Bridge too obvious a sartorial symbol? Did the red, cape-sleeve Givenchy gown at Winfield House in London serve as a silent symbol of support to Meghan Markle? (The President referred the duchess as “nasty,” but Givenchy was also the designer of Markle’s wedding gown?) And how about the big black sunglasses she kept on for most of the day in Normandy, France, while honoring the 75th anniversary of D-Day — should she have shown her eyes instead?

They’re the sorts of questions that, remarkably, hover about a first lady, particularly Melania Trump, whose stealthy maneuvers and mysterious demeanor have earned her the nickname “the Slovenian Sphinx” by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

Sartorial choices

There is the ongoing discussion over a first lady’s choices — should she pay homage to the host country by wearing designs by a homegrown designer? Michelle Obama was a big proponent of going that route, and would frequently travel globally with outfits specifically culled based on the label’s association with the spots she would visit. Other first ladies, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush among them, would go the route of wearing iconic American designers on foreign soil, to represent the United States abroad.

Melania Trump does neither the former, nor the latter, with consistency. Yet, as with most things one might expect from the first lady, she — like her husband — hardly abides by a standard playbook.

So while many fashion critics may have drawn in their breath at the sight of Trump getting off Marine One at Buckingham Palace on Monday wearing a fitted white dress with navy accents and a chic matching hat — tilted just-so on top of her head — they were not surprised to learn the designer of the ensemble was neither British nor American.

For her most iconic moment, an audience with the Queen of England and her family, Trump had chosen to wear a custom-designed Dolce <><>& Gabbana, an Italian fashion house with a longstanding relationship with the first lady./ppDolce Gabbana have also been in the headlines several times in recent months for their controversial comments surrounding race and sexuality; in November they canceled a runway show in China after cries of racial insensitivity following a marketing campaign that featured a video of a Chinese model attempting to eat Italian food with chopsticks. Yet the brand has been exceedingly loyal to Trump, who has worn them repeatedly since her husband took office, including for her official portrait, in which she sports a Dolce <><><><><><><><><><> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>& Gabbana black suit./ppMelania Trump, like the President, is prone to doing business with those who have her back and Stefano Gabbana has gone so far as to champion on his social media accounts how honored he is for her to wear the label./ppThat’s as many in the fashion world have been vocally opposed to dressing Trump./ppThe hat, which was a custom addition, was made by Trump’s personal style adviser, Hervé Pierre, a frequent collaborator of the first lady. Pierre was born in France but is now a United States citizen./ppAnd while the dress and hat were not made by a British designer, it was quickly apparent the look resembled the silhouette and style of some of the dresses worn by the late Princess Diana. Or, the character Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 film version of “My Fair Lady,” also decidedly British./ppAn evening with royalty/ppFor the evening State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, Trump stuck with white, and she also kept to a non-UK designer, this time a sleeveless Dior Haute Couture gown with detail on the bodice. It was perhaps less imaginative than one might have hoped for the pomp and circumstance of the occasion, but Trump also ensured she wouldn’t steal the spotlight from the Queen. The dress was elegant, but simple./ppCamilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, also wore white that evening, as did Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, who chose a tiered gown by British design house Alexander McQueen. The Queen wore white, too, and accessorized with the Burmese Ruby and Diamond Tiara, which she had made in 1973./ppPhotos of the day and evening of interactions between Trump and the Queen and Camilla showcased smiles and growing familiarity, a burgeoning friendship between the US first lady and two of Great Britain’s centerpiece royals./pp”She enjoyed chatting with both the Queen and Duchess of Cornwall,” said Grisham to CNN. “They are very warm and strong women.”/ppThe President wore white tails to the white tie event, but his tuxedo, from head to toe, was lambasted for being remarkably ill-fitted./ppThe banquet was another chance for the first lady to showcase a British or American designer, something Ivanka Trump did that evening, wearing a voluminous baby blue shirt-dress gown with embellishments by designer Carolina Herrera. It retails for $11,000./ppUnlike her stepmother, the Herrera would be the only outfit Ivanka wore in public during the London leg of the trip that was not British-made. Earlier that day she sported a feminine, flouncy-skirt Alessandra Rich suit with a white Philip Treacy hat; on Tuesday, for meetings and a tour at 10 Downing Street, Ivanka wore a polka-dot Burberry ensemble, and that evening, for the dinner at Winfield House, she was in a white gown by London-based designer Safiyaa.

Hostess abroad

Later in the trip, Melania Trump served as hostess for the reciprocal dinner at Winfield House, something she had been planning in Washington for weeks. Her duties included picking everything from the china to the color palette, menu, guest list and seating chart.

For the event, the first lady chose a favored silhouette: the cape-sleeve dress. If you’ve paid attention to Trump’s style at all over the past three to four years, it’s clear she does love to have coats, jackets and, yes, dresses draped in cape-style over her shoulders.

In fact, she’s worn cape-style dresses for many formal occasions prior to Tuesday, once in Japan in 2017 to a state dinner there, and a short, black tuxedo version by Givenchy during a state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House in 2018. The Tuesday night Winfield House dinner dress was also by Givenchy, though it was long and bright red and flowy, with sequins on the bodice.

The selection of Givenchy was as mysterious as most things Melania — an iconic French brand, but now designed by British stylist Clare Waight Keller. Was the first lady wearing French, or British, or a dash of both? What was notable was the dress was not specially made for the occasion, nor was it customized in any way. In fact, you or I could go online and buy it in a few clicks ourselves, if we had a spare $8,340.

Honoring veterans

On Wednesday, it was another Trump repeat, to attend a ceremony in Portsmouth, England, honoring the 75th D-Day anniversary. Trump emerged from Marine One to take her seat with the President wearing a cream-colored coat by The Row (the label helmed by former child actors Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen). Unlike earlier iterations, this hat was decidedly British, by famed milliner Philip Treacy, whose designs are favored by members of the Royal Family, especially Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle. Trump’s was more flying saucer-shaped than the vertical creations that Treacy hats often take, but it was no less fashionable on Trump, whose hair was swept up into a bun.

And just when one might start to think the white was a running sartorial theme, the first lady stepped out the following day for commemorative ceremonies in Normandy, France, in head-to-toe black. It marked what is by this reporter’s count, at least her 8th public outing in a black coat as first lady. This one was by Dior, again, French and, again, unclear if the nod was purposeful to being on France’s shores for the day, or whether it was simply what she wanted to wear, when she wanted to wear it.

When Trump departed Ireland on Friday, en route back home to Washington, she was wearing her oft-seen Burberry trench coat, belted tightly at the waist, with a light-blue silk headscarf looped over her head, tucked beneath her chin. While the scarf was an accessory she has never worn in public before that day, it is a look frequently favored by someone the first lady had just spent a good deal of time with on her trip … Queen Elizabeth.