If you’re interested in fashion at all the name Olivia Palermo will mean something to you: style icon to many, brand ambassador, blogger, designer, model, stylist, but one thing she is not is an influencer. Let me explain. Over the weekend I caught a quote from her recent interview from The EDIT, she is on the current cover of the Net-a-Porter magazine, “I never discuss politics, because it is so personal, but it’s important for America to make a stand. We are open to every culture in the world.” I re-read this a few times to make sure I fully digested what Palermo could have meant by this statement, and concluded that she’s saying exactly what she intended to mean. And that’s nothing at all. At first, my reaction was, how cowardly. How could such an influential, successful woman have nothing to say about the current state of politics in this country?
A few days later, I read the whole interview in which Palermo sits down with Pandora Sykes, another huge personality in the fashion industry. In between questions, Sykes seems to ponder the same thing, “She is friendly, easy company, but the woman known for her ability to cause a Tibi blouse to sell out in 24 hours (Palermo should surely be credited for putting fashion’s recent ‘off-the-shoulder’ trend on the map) deftly bats back every question via vague non-sequiturs and polite side-steps.” She’s a pro Sykes says. Asked if she considers herself a feminist, Palermo says she likes to keep her views quiet. I’m going to go with no on the feminist label. Palermo certainly projects a very put-together image, no public missteps, everything about her seems calculated to a T. We know the blasé tuck of her sponsored blouse is exactly as it should be. So why am I so surprised she has nothing to say about feminism or politics, and doesn’t encourage political conversation?
I started thinking about all the smart women who, in a way, risk their public image by getting political. Amy Poehler, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Scarlett Johansson, Rowan Blanchard, Yara Shahidi used their voice and visibility to campaign or give speeches in the months leading up to the election. And by that I mean they risked their audience (readers, ticket holders, movie-goers, etc) to share their personal views. You might argue that Palermo has no business in her business talking about women’s rights or LGBT rights or engaging in discourse about immigration. Social activism isn’t a requirement when you’re a celebrity. But many celebrities, anyone with a platform, really, felt compelled to get involved given the policy threats of marginalization to so many groups of people by the Trump administration. Fans and critics wondered why someone as famous as Taylor Swift was noticeably mum on all things politics despite her public Instagram support of girl “squads.” Why someone with a massive fan base of women and young women especially, would be so quiet during pivotal women’s issues conversations over the last year is truly bewildering. If someone as visible as Taylor Swift would have tweeted support for Planned Parenthood or LGBT rights who knows the impact she would have had.
Many designers and editors have openly shared how their publications will cover the First Lady or whether or not they will dress her. Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen, Tom Ford, Derek Lam, Naeem Khan have all publicly stated they will not dress the First Lady because the policies of her husband’s administration do not align with those of their fashion brands. I also realized all of these men have something to lose personally from these policies. And perhaps this is why Palermo believes she doesn’t have to get political – because it doesn’t affect her personally. Who knows if this is actually true (her husband is German, thus immigration policies have to be on her radar), but it does imply self preservation of her carefully enacted public persona and brand and fear of alienating anyone are more important than using one’s platform to support causes that hurt women and other marginalized groups. Perhaps just like Swift.
I realize this is a huge conversation and opening up about these issues does make us vulnerable. But I certainly don’t believe that as Americans, we can’t or shouldn’t work with people who have different beliefs than us. I do think our unwillingness or flat out denial that anything touchy shouldn’t be discussed in public is very representative of how far the pendulum has swung the other direction in demonstrating our ability to have respectful political discourse during these very political times. And I don’t agree that by staying silent or purposefully excluding oneself from the conversation means that you are being polite; I think you’re just being selfish.
I am NOT suggesting Palermo voted for Trump or endorsed him in any private way, but I couldn’t help but think of what Tina Fey said recently during a conversation with the executive director of the ACLU, “I personally would like to make my own pledge to college-educated white women to not look away, not pretend that things that are happening now won’t eventually affect me if we don’t put a stop to it,” she said.
Photo credit DRIU + TIAGO