Working with the First Lady was a designer’s fantasy, reveals the former Carolina Herrera Creative Director.
When First Lady Melania Trump stepped out at the first of three Inaugural Balls at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Friday night wearing a custom gown by the little-known designer Hervé Pierre, the shock was palpable, and widespread; but perhaps no one was in for more of a surprise than Pierre himself. “I had no idea when I made the dress what the consequences would be,” he told BAZAAR.com in the first interview he has agreed to since the Inauguration.
“Immediately my phone went completely ballistic with interview requests; I had investors and bankers in Dubai calling, people opened fake Instagram accounts under my name. Even Target called to say, ‘We are so excited you are doing a line for us.’ I’m like, ‘Well I had no idea I was doing one.'” Somebody even recognized him on the street in D.C. on his way to the National Gallery Sunday. “The attention is something I’m not used to.”
According to Pierre, Mrs. Trump initially approached the French-born designer (who gained U.S. citizenship in August) to be her stylist, but the moment she laid eyes on his sketches she proposed that he design the gown himself, with her collaboration. The soon-to-be First Lady saw the little-known designer as a special talent that would give her the opportunity to wear something no one else had.
Pierre described the process of working with Mrs. Trump as a designer’s fantasy. “She knows fashion—she was a model and has worked in a design studio—so she knows about construction,” he explained. “When I brought her fabric swatches, she immediately picked the heaviest, most beautiful six-ply silk from Italy. She knows about fabrics. It was a very organic conversation because we have the same vocabulary.”
“She was very specific about the neckline, about all the lines being parallel.”
When it came to the concept for the gown, Melania was insistent on its simplicity and elegance. “She was very specific about the neckline, about all the lines being parallel,” Pierre recalled, adding: “It was important for us not to follow any recipe for a ‘First Lady gown.'” The designer was determined to express through the dress his respect for both Mrs. Trump’s individual style, and also the majesty of the event. “She’s presidential now; she’s not just a fashion plate
The collaboration also strengthened Pierre’s affinity for working with women such as Mrs. Trump who have a strong vision for what they want. “As a man designing for a woman, you put into the clothing your ideals, what you idolize, but a woman will put you back on track and say, ‘I cannot reach my fork.'” Indeed, during one fitting Melania told Pierre: “Hervé, I love you, but I cannot move my arm to hold my husband’s arm when we dance.
During one fitting Melania told Pierre: “Hervé, I love you, but I cannot move my arm to hold my husband’s arm when we dance.”
Pierre reflected that the First Lady’s fashion choice that evening constituted her announcement to the global audience of what we can expect throughout her tenure in the White House. “There is an economy of the drawing, and that’s who she is. Her next four years as First Lady are going to be, like this gown, straight to the point, perhaps with a single measured detail,” he said, referring to the slim red band tied around her waist. “I also didn’t want to refer to the past, to any period,” Pierre added. “I believe it was something modern, which was not done before—thank God. The lines are as sleek as a paper cut; the curves of the skirt are fluid, yet the overall shape is sharp and intense. For me it reflects her personality.”
For Pierre, too, Friday marked his own inauguration of sorts: an instant emergence onto the world stage from which he had remained concealed over the course of his decades-long résumé of top creative posts at some of the most esteemed houses in both France and America, from Balmain to Oscar de la Renta to, most recently, Carolina Herrera, where his 15-year tenure as creative director ended last February. He has designed for many First Ladies under these labels, but Melania’s white gown was momentous because it bore his name alone. “When you work under the shadow of an established brand, you feel that you are protected,” he said. “I felt comfortable on the big boat at Balmain, de la Renta; I felt secure.”
“I’m not doing politics, I’m doing dresses. We are not suddenly brokering a big deal between China and Russia.”
Asked what he would say to his peers who have famously declined to dress Mrs. Trump, such as Tom Ford, Philip Lim, Marc Jacobs, and Timo Weiland, Pierre communicated through his thick French accent the essence of the American spirit. “That’s the good thing about this country: we are all equal, but we are definitely not the same,” he said. “I’m not doing politics, I’m doing dresses. We are not suddenly brokering a big deal between China and Russia. If people don’t want to dress her, I think it’s sad, but I was honored. I don’t criticize these people—it’s their choice, and that’s the beauty of democracy.”
As the Trumps took their first steps as the First Family of the United States, then, so too did the designer accept what might end up being the defining career challenge of his life. Just what the future will look like from here is yet to be determined. There are a number of potential opportunities he is exploring as an independent designer—and it looks likely this will not be the end of his relationship with the Trump White House. “I traveled with her on Friday and she said, ‘I need to see you this week; we need to speak,'” Pierre revealed. But he’s not getting ahead of himself just yet: as he reminded himself, with a lighthearted ease that would serve a First Lady adviser well, “It’s only Wednesday.”
By Harper’s Bazaar