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Vera Wang and Apple Pie
"My only criticism of the whole thing is of Michelle Obama's choice of designer and dress. I think it was absolutely wrong for her to wear something by a foreign designer, particularly at a dinner for China, with which we have a terrible trade imbalance."
--Vanity Fair writer Bob Colacello to VF Daily
Amen, Bob. We are now BFFs. I'd like to send you a silver metal BFF Puzzle Piece Keychain from Claire's. Comes in a two-pack. One puzzle keychain says "Best." The other says "Friend." The two pieces fit together like peas in a pod. If I sent the "Best" half to you, I would keep the "Friend" half with my keys on it forever as a tribute to your chutzpah. Problem is I can't do that because I just called my local Claire's and had the clerk check for me and, yes, those keychains--like everything else sold at Claire's--are Made in China. Can you hear me sighing?
The White House press release describing last night's state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao called it a "quintessentially American" evening. Maine lobster, rib eye steak, locally grown herbs, California wines, apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream. Food-wise, the White House made us proud. Hip, hip hooray. Pass the apple pie.
Problem is, "quintessentially American" didn't extend to the First Lady's clothing choice. Yes, she looked stunning, arms sculpted, hair swooped up in a prom-like do, black drop earrings (hopefully not from Claire's) understated yet elegant. But her bright red gown was designed by British designer Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Mr. McQueen, four-time winner of "British Designer of the Year," has been the designer of choice for many American celebrities, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. However, on February 11, 2010, Mr. McQueen committed suicide, hanging himself with his favorite brown belt. Ms. Burton, the friend and colleague appointed to replace him, consequently designed Mrs. Obama's lovely asymmetric-shouldered dress. This is not about Ms. Burton, her obvious talent or McQueen's tragic end. This is about the USA's own designers, and their equally impressive talent. Let's see, anyone out there…?
How about Vera Wang? Ms. Wang was on hand last night, one of the 225 guests attending. It's as if the White House came so darn close to doing the right thing, and then chose not to. Our very own Chinese-American fashion-designer icon, invited to attend the state dinner, surely hoped for a call from Mrs. Obama's people: "Vera, hey, White House here. By any chance, have you got a gown…" As my Dad would say For Christ's sake, that's a no-brainer.
I called the Vera Wang flagship store (one's in LA; other's in New York). Spoke to a salesperson. Asked if she thought Ms. Wang might have been a tad annoyed at being passed over by Mrs. Obama. Her answer was diplomatic. "Oh, no. Vera's so obsessed, so passionate about talent and about her global colleagues in the fashion industry." Ok, so I'll have to say, on her behalf, that as an American citizen I am so disappointed. If the White House wanted a "quintessentially American" story, Ms. Wang's would be it. Parents immigrated from Shanghai, China in the 1940s. Mother worked as a translator for the United Nations. Father owned a medicine company. Vera was raised in Manhattan, eventually earned an art history degree from Sarah Lawrence College. Trained as an ice skater, competed in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Tried out for the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. When that didn't pan out, she picked herself up, dusted herself off, and moved on to fashion design and then home products. She has had enormous success. Her current net worth is approximately $115 million. That's a lot of taxable income helping keep this government engine chugging along, helping pay for Mrs. Obama's Alexander McQueen gown.
Thing is, like BFF / Vanity Fair Bob says, we "have a terrible trade imbalance." In the 1970s, when my Dad wrote "Import Backlash," he included a meticulously detailed flow chart. The flow chart has "GOODS" in outlined boxes, one on the right, one on the left. In the left hand box the "GOODS" are "Made in USA for EXPORT TO Japan." In the right hand box the "GOODS" are "Made in Japan for EXPORT TO USA." From these two boxes, lines and arrows follow the goods from the two countries, showing them going to "ESCROW" (where their value would be determined), to "BROKERS" (where they would be sold), to "DISTRIBUTORS," to an "EQUITY EXCHANGE" (where proceeds would be converted to each country's currency), then "OUT OF ESCROW," and finally to "RETAILERS" in Japan and in the USA. Looking at the flow chart, it's a thing of symmetry. Like a beautiful symphony, or maybe just like Claire's keychain puzzle pieces. Products in, products out, in perfect balance. You, Great Britain, sell me one Alexander McQueen gown, I, USA, sell you one Vera Wang gown of equal value. Everybody wins.
But we are way beyond symphonic balance at this point. My eyes glaze as I try to learn this stuff, but from what I can find on the americaneconomicalert.org website, here's how China alone figures into our trade imbalance: Our exports to China have a valuation of $6,888.8 million per month. Our imports from China have a valuation of $25,185.1 million per month. That's $18,296.3 million more out to China than in to the USA per month (and don't even get me started on our national debt to them). How do we change this?
One way would be to choose a Vera Wang gown, to showcase an American designer, to stand next to President Hu Jintao and show him, "Yes, we can" regain our place at the table. Then pull out my Dad's flow chart and see what happens. Hey, it's a no-brainer.
PS: Where was I at my last post, eight days ago? Oh yeah. About to let you in on a revealing phone visit with a dear family friend. Apologies for the delay in continuing on with that story (which shall not be forgotten). For the past two weeks my Mom has battled pneumonia and several other infections. Thankfully, miraculously, she's on the mend. As I said in my December 31st launch posting, each of us grieves in her own way. It's only been 53 days since Dad passed. My folks were together for 67 years and now he's gone. Mom's recovery has just begun. Prayers welcome.