Fashionable Life: Diplomacy X Design Panel on the Role of Fashion in Politics

by Aaron Royce

The event, hosted by Meridian International Center, revealed fashion’s importance within diplomacy.

Fashion and politics merged at Meridian International Center’s Diplomacy X Design event at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The panel-which included stylist Meredith Koop, Artemis Strategies founder Hildy Kuryk, and Czech diplomat Indira Gumarova– was moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic Robin Givhan. Prior to the panel, press members were given time to view the museum’s first fashion exhibit, Rodarte.

Meridian International Center’s CEO Stuart Holliday introduces the Diplomacy X Design panel. Photo by Ben Droz.

The panel’s members discussed the current state of fashion and how it has impacted the perception of public figures. Politics and fashion-mainly women’s-have been scrutinized since the role of first lady began, but notably grew with Michelle Obama’s penchant for high-low styles, international designers and initiative merging.

After reviewing diplomacy’s definition in relation to fashion, the panel agreed there has to be intention behind a diplomat’s outfit. What matters when choosing what to wear is how people will publicly perceive the subject. “There should always be a strategy behind the fact that the world will see you, and, whether intended or not, you have to be okay with that reaction,” said Kuryk, who served as the Democratic National Committee’s finance director and currently works on PR for the Met Gala. She was specifically referring to the implications of Melania Trump’s decision to wear a Zara jacket that said “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” while visiting a detention center for migrant children held by the U.S. government. “If you want to use that moment, use it. And if you don’t? Be okay with the fact that everyone’s going to make an assumption for you or on your behalf,” Kuryk continued.

Moderator Robin Givhan, Meredith Koop, Hildy Kuryk, and Indira Gumarova made up the Diplomacy X Design panel. Photo by Ben Droz.

Panel members concluded that diplomats need to take responsibility and ensure a platform for their ensembles. Since a public forum of opinions is inevitable, the wearer should be the one to control the narrative. “It all depends: do you want to control your image?

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Or would you rather have someone control it for you, or does it maybe not really matter to you?” said Koop, reflecting on her experience styling Michelle Obama. “You’re responsible,” Gumarova added.

Audience members were invited to ask questions after the panel’s discussion. Photo by Ben Droz.

Depending on title, diplomats could adopt a uniform to remove their clothing from public conversation. However, it depends on the individual’s title, location and level of publicity. Compared to the First Lady, for example, a less-visible diplomat’s wardrobe is less likely to be subject to the same criticisms.

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Once the panel opened up to audience questions, there was another question posed about whether a uniform outfit existed that a diplomat could turn to for any event, regardless of brand, color, occasion or the wearer’s views. “There is no one closet or outfit for all,” said Gumarova. “It does not exist!”

The Diplomacy X Design panel concluded with a seated luncheon, where guests mingled with the panel members like Indira Gumarova (left). Photo by Ben Droz.

The event concluded with a seated luncheon on the Museum’s Mezzanine level.

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