Fashion diplomacy 101.

By Christopher Luu
Sep 04, 2019 @ 10:00 pm

Unlike her stepmother, Ivanka Trump may be making some effort towards a sort of fashion diplomacy. During her trip to Colombia, Ivanka wore dresses by Colombian designers Johanna Ortiz and Silvia Tcherassi, and she also carried a woven handbag made by artisans in Usiacuri, Atlántico that she was gifted by Vice President of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez.

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Fashion diplomacy is a move that was championed (and truly defined) by Michelle Obama, and something that Melania Trump has been criticized for not doing time and again.

In a new tweet posted by Colombia's vice president's official account, Ivanka can be seen using her new bag while wearing a green Ortiz look. During a separate event with Colombian President Ivan Duque and his wife Maria Ruiz, Ivanka wore a bold yellow Ortiz dress; the following day, she opted for a Tcherassi ensemble, which she paired with the same gifted bag.

It's a move right out of Obama's playbook, who practiced fashion diplomacy on countless occasions. For example, for State Dinners with Japan and China, Obama wore dresses by designers Tadashi Shoji and Vera Wang, respectively, and it was seen as a way for her to honor her guests in a personal way. 

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Current first lady Melania Trump hasn't been keeping the new tradition up. Instead, she's been sticking to her tried-and-true labels, such as Gucci and Chanel, and has come under fire for doing so. In 2017, Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times chief fashion critic, called Melania out for wearing a Chinese-inspired dress during a state visit to China instead of a dress from an actual Chinese designer. 

Friedman has also previously critiqued Ivanka's looks, noting that during a trip to India in the first year of her father's presidency, the first daughter wore looks "inspired" by the country that were actually created by Western designers. 

"The selections had echoes of orientalism and ornamentation," she wrote of Ivanka's Tory Burch and Erdem ensembles at the time. "Just as Melania Trump's Gucci gown with faux Chinese embroidery did during the Trumps' state visit to China. Instead of wearing work by a designer that spoke to the nuances of the country, Ms. Trump opted, at least initially, for the most obvious: clothes by outsiders who dipped into their fantasy of India as opposed to its reality."

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"If Ivanka's clothes are to be an acknowledgment of an ancient and rich culture like ours, especially as she arrives as a dignitary, then the sartorial 'tribute' should be authentic in its intention," Bandana Tewari, Vogue India's editor-at-large, told Friedman. "We would rather see her wear a hand-woven sari made in our country or a handmade gown made in her own country. But to hybridize the two, in an era of unfiltered diversity, is a superfluous nod to half-acceptance."

Like the handbag she received in Colombia, Ivanka had received a sari from Bollywood costume designer and stylist Neeta Lulla during her trip to India. But instead of wearing it, she opted for the Tory Burch dress. It looks like Ivanka's learning, even if it's just a little at a time.

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