Fashion in the Age of Trump

Has a single garment ever gotten so much press commentary than Paul Manafort’s ostrich skin jacket? (Update: Yeah, okay, Monica’s blue dress.)

The jacket is infamous for costing $15,000 and still being ugly. I’m having a hard time visualizing Manafort wearing it, although I guess all the photos I’ve seen of him show him wearing a suit that looks like just about every other suit any man wears.

People have pointed out that the $15,000 pales in comparison to a $51,000 Dolce & Gabbana jacket worn by Melania awhile back.

To me, that looks like what might happen if the Etsy website got stomach flu. Yes, everybody says it’s a $51,000 jacket. No, I don’t know what kind of markup over cost is involved, but I suspect a lot. It has also been noted that Melania very rarely uses jacket sleeves. I assume the thing in her hand is a clutch of some sort and not some alien being expelled by the jacket.

Back to the ostrich jacket. Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan wrote,

Where to begin in the dumbfounding tale of Paul Manafort and his fashion habit? The gluttony. The indulgence. The preening bad taste.

The pathetic pretentiousness of it all.

His is the story of a man’s inexorable slide into a nauseating spectacle of insatiable consumption — a parable, or perhaps, a farce that included salivating merchants flying across the country to cater to his appetites. There are so many enticing, beguiling entry points in this story of unbridled decadence: the use of wire transfers from foreign bank accounts to pay his clothing bills, the capacity to spend more than $929,000 on suits in a five-year period, a perplexing fixation on plaid sport jackets.  But ultimately, the one thing that most folks will remember from the first week of Manafort’s trial on bank and tax fraud charges is his $15,000 ostrich-leather bomber jacket.

Well, why not? The Manafort saga has a distinctively freak show quality to it. How does a man stash $30 million in offshore bank accounts and still go broke?

Mueller has alleged a years-long scheme of astonishing scope: that Manafort first laundered $30 million from a web of undeclared offshore accounts into the US without paying taxes on it, and then (after the Ukrainian money stopped coming in) defrauded several US banks to get more than $20 million in loans. Manafort has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

The man owns a lot of real estate, including a condo in Trump tower, another condo in Manhattan’s SoHo district, a brownstone in Brooklyn, an estate in the Hamptons, an unremarkable single-family home in Arlington, Virginia, and a home in Palm Beach, Florida. I understand that if he’s convicted, all those homes will be forfeited.

The man is 69 years old. He could have announced his retirement, sold some of that real estate to cover debt and still live more than comfortably for the rest of his life. Instead, he talked himself into the Trump campaign as a way back into the lobbying game. That’s how he got his start, years ago; he turned a mid-level position in the Reagan campaign into a big-ticket lobbying career.

The trial that began this past week was all about the money he earned working for Viktor Yanukovych, one-time president of the Ukraine, and several Russian oligarchs.

The first set of charges, which Mueller calls “the tax scheme,” relate to Manafort’s flush years, when the Ukrainian money was pouring in to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Mueller says Manafort set up a complex web of offshore shell companies and then spent $30 million of that offshore cash in the US between 2008 and 2014.

About $12 million of that cash was allegedly spent on “personal items” for Manafort and his family, spread across more than 200 different transactions. This included about $5.4 million to a home improvement company in the Hamptons, $1.3 million tied to an antique rug store in Virginia, $849,000 or so to a men’s clothing store in New York, $819,000 on landscaping, and payments related to several Range Rovers and a Mercedes-Benz.

Then another $6.4 million was allegedly wired from offshore for three real estate payments: $1.5 million for a condo in New York City, $3 million for a brownstone in Brooklyn, and $1.9 million for a house in Virginia. On top of that, Manafort allegedly sent another $13 million as “loans” to US companies he controlled — but the government calls these loans “shams” designed to fraudulently reduce his taxable income.

There are allegations that he was wiring money from a bank in Cypress for “home improvements” that he didn’t actually buy. Money laundering?

The New York Times reports that Manafort wasted no time trying to monetize the Trump campaign gig, for which he was not paid:

In April 2016, just days after becoming a Trump campaign strategist, he tried to use his positive news media coverage as leverage in a debt dispute with a Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska.

“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Mr. Manafort wrote in an email to a business partner.

“Absolutely,” the partner, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, responded. “Every article.”

“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort asked. The emails were reported by The Washington Post and The Atlantic.

Later, Mr. Manafort suggested providing campaign briefings to Mr. Deripaska. No evidence has emerged that such briefings occurred.

In short, no sensible person would have let Manafort anywhere near a presidential campaign. Apparently Trump was the one who hired him.

As Mr. Manafort ascended to one of the premier jobs in American politics, prosecutors now say, his career was privately in shambles. In early 2016, his accountant testified, he worked to mortgage some of his seven or eight homes. Prosecutors said he had become accustomed to a lavish lifestyle and was preoccupied with clinging to it.

Back to Robin Givhan and the ostrich jacket:

Prosecutors argued that the luxurious nature of Manafort’s purchases was important because it offered the jury insight into it their case. That Manafort “had an expensive lifestyle that required lots of money to maintain is important proof as to why he would commit the bank frauds,” prosecutors wrote. Manafort had grown accustomed to Bijan, ostrich and python and when his income declined “he resorted to bank fraud as a means to maintain his lifestyle.”

Perhaps. But prosecutors missed a more significant argument. The fashion industry has long recognized and exploited the fact that its customers are not just buying accoutrements to a lifestyle. They are buying the building blocks to a public identity.

And when those blocks elevate a man to the tippy-top of the pyramid, he might do just about anything to prevent a perilous fall.

Apparently, the yawning emptiness that is Paul Manafort required a lot of accoutrements to maintain an identity.

11 thoughts on “Fashion in the Age of Trump

  1. Has a single garment ever gotten so much press commentary than Paul Manafort’s ostrich skin jacket?

    Yeah, Monica's blue dress has.

  2. It doesn't look good for Manafort. I keep hearing about a presidential pardon, but like I've mentioned before, Trump better use his pardon's judiciously. He can issue pardons all day long when the object of his pardons aren't directly linked to his own interests. But when he starts issuing pardons to cover his own tracks there is going to be some major uproar. And depending on how the "need" to pardon arises from Mueller's schedule of indictments it could seriously affect Trump's ability to pardon without incurring some stiff political price. Use them wisely, Trump.

    I'm hearing from the former federal prosecutor talking heads on TV that Manafort can cry uncle at any point during his trial and seek a deal with Mueller. They say that once it becomes clear to Manafort that he's going down from the weight of the evidence against him he can roll over to better his odds in drawing his last breath from the air of freedom. It kinda makes sense to me because… why give up before all hope is gone? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

     I also suspect that Mueller isn't particularly set in wanting to see the whole pack of scumbags imprisoned and punished like I do. I think Mueller just wants the truth regarding the Russian interference into our electoral process and could care less about how the chips fall in finding that truth.

     Personally, I would be delighted knowing that Don Jr was sitting in a prison cell expending his creative energies devising strategies to fend off the sexual advances from a bad hombre named Chico. Like the Shawshank Redemption I hope they put him down with the sodomites.

  3. Has a single garment ever gotten so much press commentary than Paul Manafort’s ostrich skin jacket?


    Joseph's Coat of Many Colours? But it's old news.

  4. That ostrich jacket?


    It's not worth it with him in it.

    And if we're heading towards being an Autocratic Fascist nation, can't we do better on the fashion front.

    Compare that ostrich jacket to the full-length black leather that the Nazi's SS and Gestapo wore.

    You can't.

    I'd bet that if some SS officer wore an osttich jacket to a party meeting, he's have soon found himself in a Concentration Camp, with a pink triangle stitched to it.


    • “I’d bet that if some SS officer wore an osttich jacket to a party meeting, he’s have soon found himself in a Concentration Camp, with a pink triangle stitched to it.”

      A long time ago I read a serious argument that the army with the snazziest uniforms always loses.

  5. "How does a man stash $30 million in offshore bank accounts and still go broke?"

    Indeed, but the question is also, why?  The properties at Trump Tower, SoHo and Brooklyn are so close in proximity they are probably less than a 10-15 minute cab ride from each other?  Then there's the almost $1 million spent on suits, and of course the jackets.   Besides, what kind of identity does an ostrich jacket convey? 

    Manafort's spending and consumption represents a level of ostentation that speaks of someone not used to wealth;  of someone who suddenly falls into it and buys stuff that in their minds make them appear wealthy.  You would not catch the truly wealthy people, like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and many others, in an ostrich jacket. 


    • csm — “Manafort’s spending and consumption represents a level of ostentation that speaks of someone not used to wealth; of someone who suddenly falls into it and buys stuff that in their minds make them appear wealthy.” Yes, sounds about right. And it also describes someone who would probably rather die than go back to being merely middle class.

  6. There’s a great biography of Manafort over at The Atlantic.

    Manafort had been bred for politics. While he was in high school, his father, Paul Manafort Sr., became the mayor of New Britain, Connecticut, and Manafort Jr. gravitated toward the action—joining a mock city council, campaigning for the gubernatorial candidate Thomas Meskill as part of his Kiddie Corps. For college and law school, he chose Georgetown University, a taxi ride from the big time.

    Manafort’s father was later caught up in corruption charges. Manafort adored his father.

    Conventional wisdom suggests that the temptations of Washington, D.C., corrupt all the idealists, naïfs, and ingenues who settle there. But what if that formulation gets the causation backwards? What if it took an outsider to debase the capital and create the so-called swamp? When Paul Manafort Jr. broke the rules, when he operated outside of a moral code, he was really following the example he knew best. As he later said of his work with his father in an interview with a local Connecticut paper, “Some of the skills that I learned there I still use today … That’s where I cut my teeth.”

    Manafort became so successful at corrupting Washington, that by the 90s, he started looking for more exotic clients. Every manner of foreign despot or oligarch he befriended. While he always displayed a lifestyle of sartorial excess, hanging around world class despots and oligarchs embolded him to scale it all up, so that he took, could live like an oligarch.

  7. Have you seen pictures of Yanukovych's  ex crib ( dacha)? It's become a tourist attraction in showing the people of Ukraine just how much he pilfered from them. One thing for sure..he didn't spare the expense in putting that place together.

  8. "What kind of identity does an ostrich jacket convey?"  Answer, a birdbrain.  Of course, that is a joke and I apologize to my bird brothers and sisters.  Birds are actually very smart and they would never seek to wear a human skin. 

  9. that jacket the first hostage-wife of the orange ferret wearing treason weasel , the i don't care one, that she wore to see the children separated from their families got some attention.  and i know it's not fashion but when she is photographed batting away the weasel's hand when he tries to hold her hand,  well,  that speaks volumes for malaria trumpanzee


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