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Inauguration Day Leads to Modeling Deals; VP’s Designer Choice Draws Criticism

A little over a week into the job and Vice President Kamala Harris is already garnering attention for what she is wearing, but not for her style or color choices. Rather, the designer label Harris has worn several times since taking the oath is raising the eyebrows of some woke fashion watchers.

For her first weekly lunch with President Biden last week, the VP stepped out in a gray Dolce & Gabbana sweater embellished with black lace. She donned a gray check suit lined with the Italian brand’s signature leopard print when she receive her second dose of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday. On Wednesday, she wore a Dolce & Gabbana chevron sweater. Each of the looks was chronicled by Kamala’s Closet, a blog that tracks the VP’s sartorial choices, past and present.

Though Harris wears (and re-wears) high-end suiting from brands such as Akris, Altuzarra, Carolina Herrera, Max Mara and Prabal Gurung, she hasn’t been known to wear the scandal-ridden Italian brand. The frequency of looks by Dolce & Gabbana, however, was enough for Kamala’s Closet author Vittoria Vignone to press pause on the applause button and address the elephant in the room.

Referencing the Dolce founders’ racist, sexist and homophobic comments, Vignone told Sourcing Journal, “Dolce & Gabbana are infamously political in a way that is opposite to everything Kamala and the Biden/Harris administration supports, which to me meant wearing them was a mistake.”

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Kamala Harris wearing a Dolce & Gabbana sweater AP Photo/Evan Vucci

It’s a sentiment she shared in a series of  Instagram Stories for the @kamalascloset account last week. “Is it possible that Kamala isn’t personally aware of D&G’s complicated history? Of course. She’s a busy woman, and fashion doesn’t need to be at the top of her mind. However, she’s also an informed person who has made a lot of careful decisions to get to her powerful, highly-visible position. Blind spots are therefore proportionally more problematic,” Vignone wrote.

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Vignone said her inbox has been flooded with responses ranging from “emojis conveying disgust or despair to well-thought-out critiques to people thanking me because they didn’t know Dolce & Gabbana’s history.”

Followers also noticed the pattern and chimed in by tagging the VP’s official Instagram account and asking Harris to stop wearing the brand. Others pointed out how the VP’s recent wardrobe choices are contrary to the message she delivered on Inauguration Day by supporting America’s Black designers. Harris received high marks for the purple coat and dress by Brooklyn-based designer Christopher John Rogers she wore to the swearing-in ceremony and for the black tuxedo coat and cocktail dress by Los Angeles-based designer Sergio Hudson she wore later that night. Harris set the tone for the historic moment when she wore a coat by New York-based brand Pyer Moss on the eve of the inauguration.

Harris set the tone for the historic moment when she wore a coat by Pyer Moss on the eve of the inauguration.
Kamala Harris wearing Pyer Moss AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Fashion experts agreed that as the first female and first Black and Asian American elected as vice president, Harris’s fashion will be scrutinized in a way that no other VP  has experienced. And the Harris team appeared to be conscious of this. As her career moved onto the national stage, Vignone said Harris seemed to increasingly shift away from European labels. She’s also showed loyalty to several U.S. brands like L’Agence, Argent (which teamed with the organization Supermajority to promote early voting for the 2021 election) and most famously, Converse—which has experienced something of a renaissance among women and girls who admire Harris. 

And it is that level of influence that makes the VP’s Dolce & Gabbana wardrobe all the more troubling, according to Vignone.

“Kamala is groundbreaking in every sense of the word,” she said. Her choices have historical significance. They have financial power. They are culturally important too. People are following her lead in every way. Just as they’re getting involved in politics in her name or volunteering in her name, or being unafraid to speak up in her name, they are buying blazers and wearing pearls and changing into Chucks because someone who was elected Vice President of the United States did all that too.” 

The relationship between Dolce & Gabbana and the White House is particularly dicey. The label was behind many of former First Lady Melania Trump’s looks, including the $51,000 floral jacket she wore in Sicily in 2017—a notable look that led critics to start a boycott campaign against the brand on social media. Dolce & Gabbana responded with a capsule collection called #BoycottDolceGabbana. 

What’s more, Dolce & Gabbana’s designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have a lengthy history of testing the limits of cancel culture. For the brand’s Spring ’13 runway collection, billed as an homage to Sicilian culture, critics took note of the use of Blackamoor-inspired figurines, a style of sculpture that romanticized slavery, in some of the jewelry pieces.

The openly gay designers also made anti-gay parenting comments in an interview with Italian magazine Panorama in 2015. They defended their statements by saying in their Sicilian culture, a traditional family is made up of a mother and a father—a theme that has been carried out in their ad campaigns and catwalks. Their Fall ’15 “Mamma” runway show featured a cast of female models walking with children in tow.

The designers were more contrite in 2018 when they feared fallout in one of their most profitable markets following a video campaign that depicted an Asian model clumsily using chopsticks to eat Italian food like a pizza pie and a cannoli. Deemed tone-deaf and offensive by Chinese consumers and industry watchdog groups, the failed attempt to gain a stronger foothold in the region led the brand to pull the plug on a fashion show it had planned in Shanghai—called a “Tribute to China”—and prompted the designers to release an apology on the Chinese social network Weibo. In the video, the designers admitted they “have much to learn” and asked for forgiveness.

Retailers responded by pulling the brand from their stores, and shoppers responded with their wallet. Reuters reported that the brand’s Asia-Pacific market share shrank to 22 percent from 25 percent in the fiscal year ending in March 2020. And the brand’s fall out in China continues to linger. Chinese luxury consumer goods publication Jing Daily noted that Dolce & Gabbana’s glitzy presence at the China International Import Expo last fall drew the ire of attendees and prompted some media outlets to refrain from covering the label’s exhibit.

Dolce & Gabbana is not the only Italian label to make offensive products or campaigns that underscore the pervasive diversity problem plaguing the country’s luxury sector. Others, however, have taken actions to ensure that such lapses of judgement are a thing of the past.

Gucci’s F/W 18-19 black Balaclava knit top with a red cutout mouth drew comparisons to blackface and was promptly removed from the brand’s website after social media users slammed the pointed insensitivity of the design, which was released during Black History Month. Prada was also called out for its 2018 “Pradamalia” collection of accessories, clothing and figurines that evoked racist imagery.

The controversy led the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights to reach an agreement with Prada that included the creation of a scholarship and paid internship program for underrepresented groups interested in pursuing careers in fashion, the hiring of a diversity officer, and racial equality training for all of its employees. And Gucci, together with parent company Kering, has launched a scholarship fund focused on improving opportunity and access for diverse people and aims to achieve gender parity at all levels within the company by 2025. Last week, Kering America was named one of the best places to work by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual assessment of LGBTQ workplace equality.

Both brands were seen on the Capitol steps on Inauguration Day. Prada was the brand behind poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s now iconic yellow jacket and red satin headband. Officer Eugene Goodman, the Capitol police officer who heroically diverted a mob from the Senate chamber, wore a Gucci scarf and tie as he escorted Harris to her seat.

From the White House to the runway

If there were any doubt that the U.S. fashion industry was closely watching Inauguration Day 2021 and through a forward-thinking lens, IMG Model’s latest roster additions prove otherwise. The firm, which represents supermodels like Bella Hadid, Ashley Graham and Kate Moss, announced just days ago that it has signed Gorman and the vice president’s stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff.

IMG Models announced this week that it has signed Amanda Gorman and the vice president’s stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff.
Amanda Gorman om Williams/CQ Roll Call

Gorman, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate and youngest inaugural poet in history, captivated the country with her powerful poem “The Hill We Climb” and with her youthful yet sophisticated style. She’s gone on to make several television appearances and agreed to recite an original poem before the Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 7.

If there were any doubt that the U.S. fashion industry was watching Inauguration Day 2021 closely and through forward-thinking lens, IMG Model’s latest roster additions prove otherwise.
Ella Emhoff McNamee/Pool Photo via AP

Emhoff, a textiles student at the Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, and her crystal-embellished Miu Miu coat caught the attention of style watchers on Inauguration Day. In an interview with the New York Times, IMG Models president Ivan Bart said, “Ella communicates this moment in time. There’s a cheekiness and a joy she exudes.”

Nicknamed “the first daughter of Bushwick” for her penchant from crafty knitwear and quirky tattoos, Emhoff is expected to launch a knitwear line when she graduates this spring.