In the never-ending hoo-ha around New York mayoral candidate and disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, I have been transfixed – not so much by the “how-can-she-stick-with-him?” Good Wife debate, or the “are-these-the-politicians-we-deserve?” metaphysical questioning of assorted talking heads, or even the “is-this-what-porn-hath-wrought?” essays of Gloria Steinem – but rather with the fashion profit-and-loss statement involved. As the mayoral primaries enter their final month (voting is September 10), I have been totting up the cost.
I am not talking about the niche market in double entendre Weiner and Carlos Danger T-shirts that has exploded recently, creating a nice little income stream for those sections of the fashion/humour community known as “scandal moguls” (a choice example: “It’s not too hard to vote Weiner,” $26.10, from zazzle.com). I am not even talking about Weiner’s surprisingly fashion-forward penchant for coloured chinos (though given that a recent YouGov poll in the UK discovered “just 12 per cent of the population think well of men in red”, perhaps that was a mistake).
I am talking about the potential, probably to be unrealised, of Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin to do something thus far no other mayoral candidate or spouse has seemed interested in doing: make an industry-ameliorating fashion statement.
This is no small thing in a city like New York, where fashion plays an ever-greater role in the economic and political life of the metropolis. According to the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the industry accounts “for 4.8 per cent of the City’s workforce” and generates “nearly $10bn in total wages with tax revenues of $2bn”. In other words, as much as Wall Street matters, so does what used to be called 7th Avenue, a truth the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, understands as well as anyone; see his actions in facilitating Fashion Week’s move to Lincoln Centre, and giving Ralph Lauren the keys to the city, for proof.
What has been missing from Bloomberg’s fashion industry boosterism is someone to play the MObama/Sam Cam role. Which is to say: act not just as a champion but as an ambassador for the industry on the public stage; make it relevant to the world by demonstrating how it functions (literally, at functions) in their own life. It’s not a frivolous sideline. Yet for whatever reason, neither Bloomberg’s partner, Diana Taylor, nor his daughter and occasional co-host Georgina, have stepped in to fill the gap. Meanwhile, none of the rest of the men and women who would replace Bloomberg, not even Christine Quinn, who clearly has taken the importance of cultivating the fashion industry on board, seem to have sussed the opportunity. Which is where Abedin, or at least the idea of her, comes in.
She is, after all, a fashion dream: 37 years old, very smart, very elegant, a mother, and someone who was OK with the idea of being introduced to the world six years ago in a major Vogue feature when she was Hillary Clinton’s travelling chief of staff. As much as anyone, she understands the value of image and how to manipulate it, and the role clothes can play in communication.
Indeed, she made a reappearance in Vogue a few years later modelling her gold-embroidered wedding dress by Oscar de la Renta (like her boss, she is close to the designer), and has been photographed carrying a Louis Vuitton tote. More importantly, she recently appeared on the campaign trail in the same red and white check Asos dress Michelle Obama had worn a year ago this month, an appearance treated, almost universally, as the passing of a torch among wardrobe watchers. Suddenly a future that included a website entitled humascloset.com, à la katemiddletonstyle.org and whatkatewore.com, both sites that chronicle the clothing choices of the Duchess of Cambridge for a world avid for role models, seemed likely.
For, though Abedin has been largely in the background during her career as Hillary Clinton’s fixer, becoming First Lady of New York would have thrust her front and centre, necessitating as it does appearances on numerous public occasions and galas. It would have created an observable sartorial narrative that could have done much to promote New York and its fashion industry around the world. After all, five years ago, Philippe Reines, Hillary’s Senate spokesperson, told Vogue, “[T]he women in our office definitely watch what Huma wears.” And that’s in the back rooms of DC, where fashion is largely regarded as a foreign language. Just think about what she could have done from a fashion week platform. All politics aside, it would have been interesting, in a clinical sense, to see the difference it made.
Instead, of course, she is modelling how to dress as a beleaguered supportive spouse (white shirts play a major role). I may be jumping the gun here but on balance I think it’s fair to say: humour’s gain is fashion’s loss.
More columns at www.ft.com/friedman