During last night’s Givenchy show, a bit of news rippled through the fashion world. For a few quiet moments, nobody was talking about Bella Hadid’s catwalk exclusive, Kanye West’s front row hoodie, or even the (excellent) collection. They were talking about Nancy Reagan’s death.
“She was a real fashion power player,” said Fern Mallis, the author, consultant, and creator of New York Fashion Week. “She owned red as her color, and was a big supporter of American designers. She wore Arnold Scaasi, James Galanos, lots of Adolfo, and of course, Oscar de la Renta.
She actually had good style,” Mallis explained, “and a lot of friends in the fashion world.”
“Even though I’m a hardcore Democrat, I have to recognize Mrs. Reagan as a beacon of American fashion and chic during her time in the public eye,” added Mickey Boardman just before this morning’s Stella McCartney show. As the editorial director of Paper magazine, his popular profiles of American aristocracy span everyone from Michelle Obama to Kim Kardashian. “Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene—Mrs. Reagan wore all [the American designers] and looked rich and glamorous, which in her world was the ultimate compliment.”
Lyn Paolo, the costume designer for Scandal and The West Wing, revealed Mrs. Reagan didn’t just impact the American fashion scene—she was a Hollywood catalyst, too. “With her love of Bill Blass and Oscar De La Renta her style was a roadmap to 1980’s style and fashion,” she says. “Her Kenneth Lane jewels alone spoke volumes of the period. Out of my love for her style, I have added touches of ‘Reagan Red" to Scandal’s First Lady, Mellie Grant, and the way [Dr. Abigail Bartlett, played by Stockard Channing] dressed during her time in The West Wing was closer to Mrs. Reagan than any other First Lady.
The hipster style set didn’t quite agree. “I wasn’t even conceived when Nancy Reagan was First Lady of the United States,” said Bryan Grey-Yambao, aka the internet superstar BryanBoy. “I never really saw her as a personal style icon.”
The American models backstage at Stella McCartney didn’t know what she looked like; the Russian and British girls simply asked “who?”
But Christene Barberich, the editor-and-chief at millennial magnet Refinery29.com, thinks even teens can learn something from Mrs. Reagan’s charismatic clothing choices. “She always stood out to me as someone who wasn’t afraid to make bold fashion choices and draw attention to herself,” says the web maven, whose her childhood interest of fashion was furthered by the former First Lady. “Her love of red, her wild gowns, occasionally showing some skin… she had such a distinct air of confidence and conviction in her clothing choices, which really left an impression on me.”
And ’s Hamish Bowles agrees. “I certainly think that there’s a generation of young designers who didn’t live through the Reagan years who can look with a fond nostalgia at the beaded evening sheaths, the powerful shoulders, the tidy little suits… we’ve seen touches of it this season with the [off-the-shoulder dresses] at Isabel Marant, the bedazzled heel at Balenciaga yesterday, and obviously at Balmain, which has an enduring obsession with ‘80s power dressing!”
Even haute hipsters owe something to Mrs. Reagan, though perhaps they don’t know it: thanks to her persistent (and sometimes pernicious) war on drugs, D.A.R.E programs swept through schools across the country—and so did the project’s iconic black t-shirts. Today, every style blogger has a D.A.R.E shirt on standby, and so do models and movie stars like Cara Delevingne. You can get one at J.C. Penny for $13—considerably less than Mrs. Reagan’s couture collection.