12-Dec, 21:31

12:00, January 25 352 0

2017-01-25 12:00:09
The Man Who Dressed Melania Trump for the Ball

In 1986, Hervé Pierre was a fashion student in Paris when he learned that he had been commissioned to whip up a dress for the reproduction of the Statue of Liberty on the Pont de Grenelle. “It was the first dress I made in my life, 25 feet across,” Mr. Pierre said wryly, “and I’m just speaking of the width of the lady’s bosom.”

Fast-forward three decades to find the designer dressing another icon, this one more animated, and certainly more svelte.

She is, of course, Melania Trump, a beacon at the inaugural balls in Washington last Friday night, sheathed in a vanilla silk crepe evening column that Mr. Pierre had confected expressly for her.

On Monday, having returned to New York with his client, Mr. Pierre sat in a conference room at The New York Times recounting the chain of events that had brought him to this moment. He was pinching himself, quite literally. “I still have goose bumps,” he confided.

Spirited, even jovial, but otherwise low-key, Mr. Pierre wore a favorite black velvet jacket from Uniqlo accented with an Hermès scarf. A spry daisy, something of a signature, shone on his lapel.

“I wore it at the inauguration,” he said. “It is me; it gives just a bit of light. And it is easier for the Secret Service guy. When he sees it, he can say: ‘Oh, it’s the guy with the daisy. Let him pass.’”

Mr. Pierre, 51, a former creative director at Carolina Herrera, has, as he tells it, come a long way. His journey to the White House began on Jan. 3, with an 8 a.m. text from Mrs. Trump, who had learned of him through friends, but whom he had never met.

“I have a favor to ask,” he recalled that she wrote. “ Would it be possible in this kind of time frame for you to design my gown?”

The request staggered him. “I almost dropped the phone,” he said. Mrs. Trump had presented him with a brief, its key words being “sleek,” “modern” and “form-fitting.” By 4:30 that afternoon, the two were animatedly poring over sketches at her home in Trump Tower.

“I saved the best for the last,” Mr. Pierre said slyly. “Of course that was the one she chose.”

The next day he presented his client with outsize fabric swatches, among them the length of six-ply silk crepe she finally settled on. “It was so heavy and beautiful, it was almost rude,” Mr. Pierre said, a catch in his voice.

Throughout the fittings, he recalled, Mrs. Trump remained even-tempered and singularly focused. “Each time I met with her, we were alone,” he said. “I never saw a maid. And never once did she look at her phone.”

The gown was conceived from the start to reflect a meeting of minds. The challenge, Mr. Pierre said, was to create “a modern look with laser-sharp tailoring, something hard, almost mean.”

“But I didn’t want a caricature,” he said. “Nothing Thierry Mugler. And I didn’t want a lot of bling.” Nor, he added, did he want the gown to be so fitted “that you would need a shoehorn and a tube of lube to get into it.”

Mrs. Trump, a former model, who impressed the designer with her command of fashion argot, had her own ideas. She wanted the small band sleeves of her décolleté-baring dress to form a straight line from shoulder to shoulder. He pressed for a curvier outline but ultimately changed his mind.

She also envisioned a slender white ribbon encircling her waist. He argued for claret, and prevailed. “Fashion is a little bit like cooking,” said Mr. Pierre, whose father was a chef in Sancerre in central France, where the family lived. “The red had a purpose, like when you put something very spicy in a dish, and it takes over a little bit of the flavor.”

After several decades in the fashion trade, he ought to know. Still, to all but the most clued-in insiders, the first lady appeared to have plucked him from obscurity. Among women shopping on Madison Avenue or perusing the racks in Beverly Hills, Calif., his name would likely ring no bells. Yet in retrospect Mr. Pierre, who has lived and worked in New York for 22 years and is a United States citizen, was clearly the man for the job.

He created his first independent collection at Balmain in the 1980s, a period during which he designed costumes for the ballet as well. In the mid-1990s he decamped for New York, where he worked with Bill Blass, Vera Wang and Oscar de la Renta before being named creative director of Carolina Herrera. During his 14-year tenure there, Mrs. Herrera was like a monarch, he said. “I was Prince Philip walking always two steps behind her.”

He worked discreetly behind the scenes, making clothes for Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, among other luminaries. Mr. Pierre, who likes to boast that he has designed in his day for every first lady, left his post at the fashion house last February.

“There was a new president,” he said simply. “They wanted a change, and I was not part of that.”

Contacted this week, Mrs. Herrera offered a homage. “Hervé is amazingly talented,” she said. “After working together for so many years, we share the same aesthetic.”

Since his departure, Mr. Pierre has worked primarily with private clients. Mrs. Trump’s inauguration gown, with its undulant strip of gazar at the bodice and a slit that traveled saucily from hip to hem, is the first important dress he has created under his own name.

Once its image was circulated, Mr. Pierre was overwhelmed with inquiries. “My phone has not stopped ringing,” he said, marveling at his turn of fortune. For the moment, though, he does not plan to introduce a label.

“If I work in shadows, it’s because I know how to park my ego,” he said. “You can’t have an ego designing for the first lady.”

As for the gown, it was a triumph. Flying back to New York on Sunday night, he and Mrs. Trump each studied their Twitter accounts, he recalled. “What’s your feedback?” she asked him at one point.

“I told her, ‘Mrs. Trump, I’m trying to find a single bad comment about the dress, and I cannot.’”

“I can’t find one either,” she replied. “I guess we nailed it.”