At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last March, Kerby Jean-Raymond, a Haitian-American fashion designer and founder of the Pyer Moss label, said he would turn his New York office into a donation center for N95 masks and others. personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Jean-Raymond, 33, also said he would set aside $ 50,000 for “small, creative businesses owned by minorities and women who are currently in distress.” It was a distinctly bold, social justice-focused move for a young designer who first made waves at New York Fashion Week in 2016 with a show inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kamala Harris, the first black woman and first black vice president of the United States, appeared in one of Jean-Raymond’s designs, a camel overcoat inspired by men’s fashion, at a memorial on Tuesday dedicated to the over 400,000 Americans have died from coronavirus.
The dark but contemporary look set the tone for the next day’s inauguration, which saw Harris sworn in as second in command alongside Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States.
The pick also highlighted how vice president and new first lady Jill Biden could use fashion to advance their style of politics at a time of suffering and partisan division in America.
Openings have typically been multi-day celebrations of pomp and circumstance, with star-studded parades, glamorous black-tie balls, and hundreds of thousands of acclaimed citizens descending on Washington. But this year, the combination of a public health crisis, economic hardship, and the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol led to a stripped-down guard change.
Biden, a community college professor, appeared at Tuesday’s vigil in a clean “Unity” gown and matching wrap coat tied with a velvet ribbon from Jonathan Cohen, another up-and-coming New York color designer whose parents emigrated from Mexico to the United States. . Their plum hue symbolized the junction of blue and red, the respective colors of the Democratic and Republican parties.
The next day, Biden accompanied her husband to his swearing-in in an ocean-blue tweed coat and dress ensemble, complete with a coordinating silk mask, made by Alexandra O’Neill of Markarian, another New York designer who is far from being a familiar name.
Markarian said the tone of the jewel was chosen to “signify trust, confidence and stability” – a message that echoed Joe Biden’s speech of unity and calm to voters following the era. tumultuous trump.
Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, broke with tradition and snubbed Wednesday’s opening, leaving Washington early in the morning for their resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. Once again avoiding American designers, Melania Trump bade farewell to the White House in an almost funereal black ensemble from Italian label Dolce & Gabbana and French fashion house Chanel. When Air Force One landed in Palm Beach three hours later, it had transformed into an eye-catching orange and blue graphic maxi dress from Gucci.
Meanwhile, in DC, the new president is sworn in dressed head-to-toe in Ralph Lauren, the iconic American designer, in another signal of a return to tradition and bipartisanship. While Joe Biden is the first president to wear the all-American label when he is sworn in, he follows a long line of Democrats and Republicans to promote the brand, from Nancy Reagan to George W Bush to Michelle Obama.
Douglas Emhoff, Harris’ husband and the first male spouse of a vice president – who is now referred to as the ‘second gentleman’ but joked that ‘the first guy’ might be more appropriate – also wore Ralph Lauren, while that Harris, in a vibrant purple coat and dress ensemble, once again raised another young black American designer: Christopher John Rogers.
Harris and Jill Biden, dressed in similar monochrome ensembles, both appear to have taken a page from the book by Michelle Obama, the former first lady who most historians and fashion experts say set the modern example of “fashion diplomacy”, using her clothes. to convey messages ranging from the most subtle to the explicit and put new designers on the map.
“Michelle Obama really raised hitherto unknown designers, young designers, designers of different ethnicities,” says Kate Andersen Brower, author First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.
On Wednesday Obama wore a plain ensemble by Sergio Hudson, another young black American designer, with a burgundy turtleneck, wide-legged pants, and a long coat, accented by an oversized gold belt buckle that had Wonder Woman undertones, the cartoon superhero.
Like Biden and Harris, she evokes bipartisanship with her palette. Many in Washington have also pointed out that purple was a favorite color for suffragettes around the turn of the last century. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also wore a purple pantsuit, signed Ralph Lauren, to the swearing-in.
Later that evening, Biden appeared on the balcony of the Blue Room of the White House in a double-breasted cashmere coat and matching silk wool dress embroidered with federal flowers from all states and territories of the United States. , designed by the Uruguayan designer based in New York Gabriela Hearst. Its ivory color again evoked suffragettes.
Biden’s coat and dress sets from Wednesday will likely be placed alongside Michelle Obama’s 2009 inauguration gown in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. While the looks lack shameless glamor, they will nonetheless remain a powerful symbol of that moment in time – and of the Bidens’ efforts to restore business to business as usual in a capital and country exhausted by four years of Trump’s presidency.
“There is a sense of normalcy and hopefully restoration of America as it was before Trump,” notes Andersen Brower. “It might be a little boring, but I think everyone wants to be boring right now.”
To follow @financialtimesfashion on Instagram to first discover our latest stories