Memorable as his four-year run as Melania Trump’s stylist has been, Hervé Pierre is more inclined to discuss the mechanics of his role than the controversy that came with it.
Styling was new to Pierre, and it was not a career path that he had sought out. As was the case during his lengthy tenure as the former creative director at Carolina Herrera, the New York-based designer prefers to work behind the scenes, avoiding the media and focusing on the craftsmanship of his own designs. In February 2018, he launched Atelier Caito for Hervé Pierre with Nicolas Caito. While Pierre has spent most of his career working in Manhattan, he started out in the Balmain sample room under François Bouchet, who became the premier atelier at Lanvin under Erik Mortensen.
That high-fashion heritage anchors Pierre’s work as a designer and stylist. While many American designers were vocal about not wanting to dress the now-outgoing First Lady, Pierre often shopped at retail — an anomaly for recent previous administrations. While Trump wore Michael Kors, Calvin Klein and other American designers, she also sported European labels such as Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen for key photo-ops.
Veering away from commenting on the record about anything controversial, Pierre spoke at length, and often enthusiastically, in an interview Monday about being Trump’s stylist. While former FLOTUS aide Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and the First Lady’s chief of staff Stephanie Grisham exited earlier than expected, Pierre has loyally remained part of the inner circle. Armchair critics are quick to reduce his alliance to the$39.99 Zara jacket imprinted with “I really don’t care, do u?” that Trump wore to visit detained immigrant children at the Texas border in 2018. But that infamous selection was something that he was not involved with. In fact, at first glance he thought the image had been Photoshopped. Not being very active on social media is one way he is staying away from getting swept up in the fray of critics.
Pierre said, “It has been an honor to dress the First Lady. That was totally unexpected. I met her for the first time on Jan. 3 and on Jan. 7, she asked me to design the gown for the inauguration four years ago. I had 11 or 12 days because we had to do the fitting and deliver it. She didn’t give me so much information so I was swimming in fog,” he said with a laugh.
Fast forward four years and Pierre has the gilded eye of experience. “The next stylist for the First Lady will be jumping into a situation that is — I don’t want to say James Bond-like — but it is very mysterious and secretive,” he said. In order to prepare, the stylist has a schedule for upcoming events like a state visit that the media does not yet know about. Keeping such information confidential is key to the job. Pierre said he always set out to find outfits that were right for specific cultures or countries. If that was not possible, then appropriateness and looking good were imperative, he said.
Asked whether his role as Trump’s stylist has helped or hindered his career as a designer, Pierre declined to comment, allowing that it is two different identities — not only his two professional roles, but his name as well as Caito’s. Throughout the Trump administration, Pierre has not mixed the two. Bipartisanship dressing is something that he believes in.
“If you don’t want to buy a brand [for political reasons], of course, I don’t know the customer and that’s OK. But we also have some very heavy[hitting] Democrats who wear the brand. It just shows that politics and pleasing the eye are two completely different things,” Pierre said. “Of course, we have a lot of people at the other side of the spectrum, Republicans, who really love the First Lady and really want to validate their look with somebody, who has an association with the brand that she is wearing.”
In fact, the first client Caito saw was a true lifelong Democrat who was very involved with the party, according to Pierre. “She said, ‘You dress the First Lady so well that I want you to dress me for my son’s wedding,’” said Pierre, adding that when wedding guests challenged that choice, the mother of the bride explained that fashion choices should not be driven by political policies.
Raving about that project, Pierre addressed bipartisanship in fashion. “Mrs. [Michelle] Obama wore a dress that I designed for [Carolina] Herrera for the state dinner [for then-French President François Hollande in 2014]. I understand that sometimes you can send a political message with a dress, but for a collection or a brand? Look at Michael Kors. He did the [pale blue suit Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wore on the digital] cover of Vogue in February. And the First Lady wore Michael Kors many times,” Pierre said. “Like your readers at WWD, do you have Democrats and Republicans? I believe you have both. You’re not going to tell them you cannot buy Women’s Wear. At the end of the day, they want information and a report. It’s the same thing on our end.”
Pierre first connected with Trump through a friend of a friend. Early on in his tenure, he read Pierre Salinger’s memoir about working in the Kennedy White House. As of now, Pierre said he has no plans to write a book. “Maybe one day, when I am 80. Well, you know, ‘my years at the White House’…[creaking his voice for effect].”
Wanting to provide “fruitful” information for the stylist who succeeds him, Pierre said, ”It’s not just like [finding something for] a black tie or a cocktail party. You have all the glamour, but then you also have hospital visits and everything else. The panorama of the wardrobe for a First Lady is so big because there are so many events that need to be fulfilled. I must say it’s a very creative practice. I’m a designer so doing styling was something that I had no idea [about]. I had to learn on the spot,” he said. “I told the First Lady at the time, ‘You know, I’m not a stylist.’ She said, ‘Well, I’m not a First Lady either, so we will learn together.’”
Pierre agreed, acknowledging upfront that there may be some “hiccups” or mistakes along the way. “The new stylist [for Jill Biden] will have to ask, ‘What will be the color of the background?’ when she is giving a speech. A pretty dress is not enough. What is pretty is how a pretty dress is on camera. Sometimes you can have a nice dress to live in, when you take a walk or for your own life as a regular, private person. But for a public person, the picture remains forever. It’s important to have a nice photo. I’m not saying that I succeeded all the time,” he said.
Emphasizing that he and Trump worked together as a team to select outfits, Pierre described her as “extraordinary.” How different garments would look on camera, such as in a shot of her walking away, was something he routinely discussed with Trump, he said. “It’s important because the picture will live in ‘picture land’ and on Instagram,” Pierre said.
Noting how interest in Instagram was gaining momentum at the end of the Obama administration, Trump took it to “full speed” as First Lady and that will be the pace that Biden and her stylist will take over, according to Pierre. He declined to discuss the controversy that he has faced over the past four years. The new stylist will have to learn that sometimes you have to think twice about ethnicity, symbolism and how people may perceive certain styles, he said.
Pierre helped to store, properly organize and preserve some of the designer looks that were selected for state visits and official occasions, like the white sleeveless Dior gown Trump wore to a Buckingham Palace state dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2019. The Smithsonian provided the boxes and guidelines for storage. He said he is not up-to-speed about any plans for a presidential library.
Well aware that Trump’s lifestyle will be considerably different, Pierre will continue to work with her, as well as work full-time at Atelier Caito for Hervé Pierre.
Pierre praised the (seemingly) apolitical White House staff’s high level of professionalism and the meticulousness they exercise to maintain the historic site. Lauding the chefs, housekeepers, the COVID-19 test-taking doctor and florist, among others, Pierre noted that on his last visit the gentleman who helped him with his luggage had served under 10 administrations, starting with Richard Nixon. “I was honored like you cannot believe,” he said.
From his perspective, the White House operates like an haute couture house. “The little couturiers, ‘les petit mans,’ as we say, the housekeeping and everything is so neat. The workmanship and the respect of the values, and the brand, because the White House could be a brand. Why not? They all work under the philosophy to respect this house,” Pierre said. “It is the same thing as when I worked for Mrs. Herrera. You work under the religion of the brand. You just want the house to be at its best.”
As for criticism that the Trumps have damaged the reputation of the White House, Pierre declined comment.
Intent as he was in not discussing anything debatable, Pierre shared a favorite FLOTUS look — the white Dolce & Gabbana dress with navy trim and a coordinating large, white brimmed hat that Pierre designed. While some compared it to “My Fair Lady” and others opined about an homage to Princess Diana, Pierre’s loyalty has never waned. “That gave me goosebumps, because she looked so beautiful,” he said.
The custom powder blue Ralph Lauren suit that Trump wore for the 2017 inaugural, and the Gucci printed dress she wore with a little Kelly bag to vote in November were “very chic” looks, he said.
Declining to comment about Harris’ Vogue cover, the White House restorations, the likelihood that the Vice President-elect may eclipse Jill Biden, Pierre did address reports of a fake Melania. He said, “It makes me smile because it is physically impossible.”
He also declined to comment about the Trumps’ decision to not attend the swearing-in of Joe Biden as 46th President of the U.S., staying mum about what the outgoing First Lady will wear for Wednesday’s departure flight out of D.C., Pierre said Dolce & Gabbana was the suit of choice that she wore to deliver a nearly seven-minute farewell video address that condemned violence and touted her “Be Best” initiative.
Asked about the social media backlash that Pierre has dealt with, he said, “I am not on Twitter. I am not on Facebook. That is the good news about being over 50. You are not stuck and completely obsessed with all of this social media. I can guarantee it helps me immensely. I don’t waste time being a worrier.”
Instagram is the only social media channel that he uses and he hasn’t posted anything since September. “I am not very good at it, to tell you the truth. If I have to do a little video, I don’t know how to use all of the emojis and whatever,” Pierre said. “Sometimes someone will say, ‘Oh my God, you are all over Twitter.’ I will say, ‘OK, fine [laughs].’”