Until this week, fashion brand Adrienne Vittadini’s biggest claim to fame might have been being name-dropped in the Lil’ Kim verse on the song “Get Money”: “Now you wanna buy me diamonds and Armani suits/ Adrienne Vittadini and Chanel Nine boots.” Adrienne Vittadini—the clothing brand, which has been around since 1979, shares a name with its founding designer—wasn’t quite the household name that Armani and Chanel were, but a mention among the likes of them was nothing to complain about. Now, a new report has thrust the brand into the spotlight, and instead of the luxe bedfellows Lil’ Kim associated it with, it’s in connection with a more controversial entity: Ivanka Trump and her fashion lines.
Business of Fashion reported Monday that G-III, the company that licenses Ivanka Trump’s clothing, had secretly relabeled some of its stock as Adrienne Vittadini before selling it to Stein Mart, a Florida-based discount chain. This scheme follows a months-long period in which Ivanka Trump’s clothing line has been a lightning rod, with activists calling for boycotts to express disapproval for Donald Trump’s presidency and Ivanka’s role in it, retailers dropping the line due to poor sales, Trump officials breaking ethics rules plugging it, and sales apparently enjoying a sweet publicity bump. Ivanka Trump officially resigned from her day-to-day role in her brand to serve her father and country in the White House, but she can still profit from it. And one could argue that she continues to promote her clothes and “brand” in everything she does.
According to BoF, G-III and Stein Mart acted without making Ivanka Trump’s brand aware of their nefarious plan to pass off the Ivanka merchandise, and G-III promised in a statement to BoF that it "has already begun to take corrective actions, including facilitating the immediate removal of any mistakenly labelled merchandise from its customer." Though relabeling was once a common practice that outlet stores might use to avoid associating “hot” brands with lowly discounters, BoF wrote, trying to do this and hide it from the brands involved might veer dangerously close to fraud. Adrienne Vittadini did not provide comment on its role in the switch, but it sure sounds like exactly the kind of shady and potentially illegal, not to mention controversy-adjacent, situation that no company in its right mind would willingly be a part of.
Though Ivanka Trump herself and maybe even her brand may ultimately have had nothing to do with this scandal, in a way it still reveals some less-than-savory things about both. BoF obtained photos of the label-switched garments, so the relabeling didn’t go completely without notice. But how distinctive and high-end can your fashion really be when it can be so easily relabeled as another brand’s? The Guardian reviewed Ivanka’s clothes in February and called the line “uninspiring”: “The collection shows a talent for taking the temperature of what was happening in design five years ago, which is par for the course in high street design.” Ivanka’s clothes look like the clothes of dozens of other brands in her category. With all apologies to Adrienne Vittadini, which never asked to be pulled into this, peruse the Adrienne Vittadini Facebook page or the Ivanka Trump collection: It all blends together, the same anodyne looks you would find at any midmarket store for “professional” women. Of course you can’t tell the Ivanka designs from the rest of the stuff on the racks—often, they’re made by the same parent companies, and the only real difference is that Ivanka makes money on the ones that have her name on them. Ivanka has said, “There’s so much value in the Trump name. And there’s such a deep connection to luxury and success.” This is all you’re really getting when you buy her clothes: her name. And why does that name continue to signal luxury when it’s being sold in a discount chain? The mysteries of branding.
In a flattering Vogue profile from last year, Nordstrom president of merchandising Pete Nordstrom said of Ivanka, “She said, ‘I’m serious about this; I’m not just a name, licensing a product without any involvement.’ She wasn’t asking for anything; there was no sense of entitlement.” (This was before Nordstrom dropped Ivanka’s brands.) Echoing that sentiment, an executive at G-III told Forbes, she’s “very involved on a weekly basis.” Why does this remind me of Melania Trump bragging that she doesn’t use a nanny or Donald Trump projecting his worst qualities onto others? It’s not totally fair to assume that Ivanka is a liar or scoundrel like others in her family, but, well, it also wouldn’t be totally realistic to give her the full benefit of the doubt.
With regard to how involved Ivanka was in her brand before she stepped down, consider this: She chose G-III as a licensor. As the Washington Post reported, G-III doesn’t provide paid parental leave to employees, an issue Ivanka has claimed is important to her. G-III is also the company responsible for getting involved in messes like the one we’re talking about right now. The clothes are manufactured in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, with basically no transparency about the conditions they’re made under. (Ivanka has reportedly pushed to move some of the production to the U.S.) The relabeling snafu may not be Ivanka’s fault, but it also doesn’t speak to great judgement or leadership of her company.
So I don’t have any sympathy for Ivanka Trump—she licensed her brand, and she can lie in it. But poor Adrienne Vittadini. If I were that company, I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative. The Trump brand hardly means “a deep connection to luxury and success”—more and more, the only deep connection it boasts is to a wide and ever-expanding orbit of scammers.
- Published in U.S.