https://www.smh.com.au-By Melissa Singer
First lady Jill Biden’s turquoise dress was designed by Markarian as a symbol of “trust, confidence and stability”. Credit:EPA
Is there a colour more emblematic of the peaceful transfer of power in the United States as “unity purple”? Sure, there’s the in-your-face patriotism of red, white and blue, but purple – now there’s a colour for 2021.
Kamala Harris made history when she was sworn in as Joe Biden’s vice president, becoming the first woman, the first Black American and the first Asian American to hold the second highest US office.
At Wednesday’s inauguration, held at noon local time on a chilly Washington day, it fell to Kamala Harris, the first black, first South Asian, first female Vice-President to take the oath of office in the most poignant hue of our time, in a dress and coat by a young black designer, Christopher John Rogers.
It was a fitting baton change, after first lady Jill Biden donned the colour for Tuesday night’s prayer service, that time wearing up-and-coming New York independent Jonathan Cohen, complete with coordinating purple gloves.
The first lady’s choices have already signalled her intention to continue supporting emerging American designers. For the official swearing in, she chose a turquoise overcoat and dress by Markarian, instantly making designer Alexandra O’Neill a household name. In a statement, the designer said the colour was chosen to symbolise “trust, confidence and stability”.
As for the man of the hour, President Joe Biden, he chose to mark the most important day of his professional life in Ralph Lauren, a label as American as apple pie and the New York yankees. Although the frigid weather meant 78-year-old Biden was rugged up in an overcoat by the veteran designer, no doubt his single-breasted suit featured a pocket square, a flourish that is already gaining the new president some attention on the style pages.
Are any of these choices coincidental? Unlikely. Just as it is safe bet outgoing first lady Melania Trump departed the White House in Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Christian Louboutin – three designers of acclaim but not one American among them. The contrast between the two cohorts could not be more striking.
But then, Trump never felt it was her station to promote American design and designers through fashion in the great tradition set by first ladies for decades. Michelle Obama did it most notably when she elevated Jason Wu from a relative unknown to global star when she chose the Taiwanese-American designer’s gowns for both inauguration balls. On Wednesday, she delivered on her mission yet again in magenta (a play on purple that reinforced but didn’t upstage Harris’ outfit) Sergio Hudson, who Harris also wore this week to a pre-inauguration event.
Speaking of balls, the persisting coronavirus threat and security concerns following the storming of the Capitol on January 6 meant there was no official glitz fest, no first dance (at least not publicly, but one can only fantasise of a West Wing waltz between the first couple) and no opportunity to fete some of the country’s best names in couture.
Instead, it was left to the inauguration entertainment trio of Lady Gaga (red Schiaparelli), Jennifer Lopez (white Chanel) and Garth Brooks (blue) to wear the colours of the American flag. Another standout was Harris’ stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, a fashion student who turned out in a tweed Miu Miu suit. And although she played no official role, talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey loaned jewellery to poet Amanda Gorman, who also wore a bright yellow Prada coat, adding yet another colour to the inauguration rainbow.
In a supporting role, former first lady Hillary Clinton also wore a purple suit, the same colour she wore when she gave her concession speech after losing the 2016 election to Donald Trump, who is the first president in decades to not attend the inauguration of his successor.
For his part, Trump departed the White House in yet another of his standard ill-fitting navy suits and red tie, no doubt a golf shirt and pants waiting for a change once they reached Mar-a-Lago in Florida. As for Melania Trump, she changed out of her funereal all-black departure ensemble into an orange patterned Gucci dress, a sign, perhaps, that she’s well and truly ready to move on.
Melissa Singer is National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.