‘What Candidate Are You Wearing?’

Taking the political pulse in the corridors of fashion.

If other journalists can take the temperature of the electorate in a South Carolina bowling alley or an Arby's in Muskogee, why can't I poll my colleagues in the glorious corridors of fashion? I want to know if my overdressed confreres are for Hillary or Obama! Is there a wayward McCain devotee among this glittering throng? Could those velvety frocks conceal a bosom heaving heavily for Mitt Romney?

Three days before the official start of Fashion Week, I am in the glassy, glossy headquarters of the haute hair salon Bumble & Bumble for a party to celebrate, as far as I can tell, the milliner Stephen Jones and a product called Spray de Mode, though why a hatmaker would be endorsing a hair spray is frankly a little beyond me.

I approach my task with all the gravitas of Giuliana DePandi, who stops people on the red carpet for the E! network and asks the penetrating "What are you wearing?" "What are you wearing?" I ask Patrick McDonald, to soften him up before I hit him with the tough political questions. McDonald, who is known around town as a world-class dandy favoring funny hats and an eyebrow so arched it belongs in an Oscar Wilde drawing room, has got on a Vivienne Westwood jacket in a loud houndstooth check and a pair of boots he bought in Paris that he says cost around 1,000 euros—or, according to him, $1,250. (Oh, how we lie to ourselves when it comes to that exchange rate.) Confirming one's suspicion that guys like him view everything through the lens of fashion, he says he's for Hill because "it's time for a skirt in the White House."

illustration: Ali Douglass

My next victim is the hat-check person–slash–performance artist Tziporah Salamon, who is wearing a gold-embroidered Edwardian dressing gown, pointy sequined slippers, and a little peaked cap once know as a toque. "It's tough," she says, swinging a glittery purse that she says cost "like maybe $5" at a flea market. "But Hillary—because I'm a woman."

Lest you think that these two funny dressers indicate a groundswell in the Clinton camp, my next three interviewees—a photographer camped at the door of the party, a young website journalist, and a male model who is from New Orleans and is wearing a green Lucite thing on his head that I think is Maine or New Hampshire (green states?) but turns out to be a rendering of the British Isles—are all solid Obama people.

The highly amusing Stephen Jones himself, who spends his time crafting chapeaux for big names like John Galliano and Marc Jacobs, is clad in a jacket made of mailbags. Jones can't vote here—he's British—but he says that, in any case, he considers himself a member of "the all-night party." He wouldn't mind giving Senator Clinton a slight makeover "to make her look like she's having fun. Obama looks like he's having fun!"

Two nights later, I'm desperately taking a stab at fun myself at FutureFashion, a multi-brand catwalk show touted as the industry's answer to Earth Pledge's call for designers to use organically grown, sustainable materials to make something you might actually want to wear. Outside the door, David Herskovitz, an Obama papa and the co-publisher of Paper magazine, is wearing his trademark porkpie-ish hat and a pair of Opening Ceremony pants; Lauren Ezersky, a Clinton booster, fashion personality, and the host of Behind the Velvet Ropes, is clad in customized Chrome Hearts motorcycle boots ("to kick your ass!" she says) and a McQueen jacket. With little—OK, no—prompting, she drops her double-R Ralph Lauren black jeans to reveal the skull tattoo residing just above her enviably trim butt. Why Clinton? "Because she has a pussy!" says Ezersky, which is by far the most succinct reason I've heard yet.

Thelma Golden, the director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, is as mysterious as the swirling print of her Duro Olowu velveteen coat. "I'm not undecided, I'm just uncommitted publicly," is all she'll say. But the dapper Nigel Barker, known for his role as a judge on America's Next Top Model, is wearing Rogan's ecologically correct Loomstate trousers, and he's not afraid to say that he's leaning toward Obama. (Despite his unspecified British accent, I guess he votes here.)

The proud possessor of a green card for 30 years, Simon Doonan, the creative director of Barneys, is finally taking the last steps toward full citizenship—his interview is in March. Tonight, he's sporting a jacket by Band of Outsiders and a pair of new Nikes he describes as Air-something. "I was feeling Hillary," he says. "But now I'm feeling Obama." And his life partner, the hipster pottery mogul Jonathan Adler? "Obama. We're an Obama household."

I ask Doonan in despair if he can point me toward any putative Republicans, but he says they'll probably be lurking at the Oscar de la Renta or Carolina Herrera shows, not bopping to old Beatle songs and looking at clothes made of soybeans and organic wool. (Organic wool? Is there some other kind I'm not aware of?)

But perhaps the electoral—and sartorial—preferences of the fashion crowd come most sharply into focus when I steal a few minutes with Patrick McMullan and his son Liam before the show begins. Patrick, a Clinton supporter, is maybe the most celebrated party photographer in the city, the country—even the world!—and is wearing a very traditional Calvin Klein suit. When I ask him rudely if he paid for it, he rolls his eyes and says, "Oh, I paid—I paid for it in work."

And what does his 20-year-old son, who has a sweet demeanor and a wild halo of hair, do for a living? Is he a student? A model? Liam looks a little uncertain, then says, "A writer, I guess. I do whatever—I'm a Renaissance boy." Tonight, the Renaissance boy is clad in a sweatshirt inscribed "Hide the Drugs," made by some friends of his.

"I like Obama," Liam tells me as the house lights dim and the first model of the first show of Fashion Week sashays down the runway. "He promises a lot."

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