When the Obamas announced that the New Orleans native with the platinum résumé and the knack for glamorous style would be the White House's first African American social secretary, the fashion industry practically swooned. The nation's capital, dominated for 20 years by administrations that, at best, endured fashion, now had a first lady who chose her designer wardrobe like a savvy insider. She and her husband hired a host of attractive young staffers who didn't mind posing for the occasional fashion spread -- Birkin bag in hand, feet shod in trendy platform heels -- and a social secretary who knew the difference between Nina Ricci and Lanvin and regularly wore both. The industry could not believe its good fortune! At long last, it had a diverse array of intelligent and respected women in federal Washington who, by their appearance alone, served as powerful advocates for an often-maligned business.Hired a host of attractive young staffers... You mean they practiced lookism?
Was Rogers engaging in what one magazine editor described as "an arrogance of style" -- using her clothes for competitive one-upmanship rather than to exude personal creativity, self-confidence or self-respect?I certainly can't understand what Givhan is saying about why Rogers lost her job. It was too hard to understand the high level of sophistication of her fashion? I'm trying to read between the lines as Givhan obviously means to lavishly promote Rogers. Was the problem that Rogers created the wrong image for the Obamas and made them look profligate and frivolous?
Or could a city of wonks and political animals simply not grasp what Rogers was saying?
In federal Washington, after all, a modest Armani suit still can get one a best-dressed award. For that crowd, taking the measure of Rogers, a special assistant to the president, dressed in Prada and Jil Sander, would have been a bit like someone trying to make sense of an NFL team's strategy diagram based on their knowledge of Foosball.
After the jump, I read some more sources and summarize a few theories.
Here's what the NYT Caucus blog said:
[Rogers] came under fire after uninvited guests made their way into the first Obama state dinner...And she didn't appear at the congressional investigation of the incident — supposedly because the White House didn't let her.
Some detractors also faulted her for breaking unspoken rules of the job — dressing in eye-catching designer-wear and assigning herself a seat at the state dinner.Could it really be that she dressed too well? Too conspicuously well? Too it's-all-about-me well?
“It has nothing to do with being glamorous, that is all make-believe in the eyes of the press. This is who I am, this is how I dress, I’ve always dressed this way, it’s all a matter of your taste,” she said.I just can't buy this don't-hate-me-because-I'm-beautiful routine. But if there is lookism to begin with, there might be backlash against the conspicuously beautiful.
Ms. Rogers says she is leaving the White House with a framework for mounting events that are not only glittering but socially meaningful. She recalled in particular a concert of Latin music several months ago. “To see the Latin entertainers perform, to see them keep them looking back at the White House, and be able to do that in front of the newly elected Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, there’s nothing more rewarding,” she said.Hmmm. Does that kind of thing ever become embarrassing? Endlessly pointing at a person's ethnicity? Having people assume that your taste in things like music follow your ancestry? Most people don't even want to hear their parents' music.
Here are Anne Kornblut and Krissah Thompson in WaPo:
[B]eing [a Washington] outsider ... helped undo Rogers, whose runway outfits and magazine shoots -- and an I-make-my-own-rules attitude -- drew criticism from political circles and within corners of the administration. Her lack of familiarity with the ways of Washington culminated in the State Dinner disaster last December, when two poseurs crashed the party and dominated headlines for weeks.So, it sounds like maybe it's part of Phase 2 of the Obama Presidency: The Reelection Campaign. Rogers was Phase 1: The Inauguration Celebration. Under this theory, which is probably the best one, it wasn't about the clothes, it was simply that donor maintenance had to take precedence over the beautiful people.
Now, in replacing Rogers, the White House has tapped a savvy insider with a track record of managing political egos and staging huge political events. In naming Julianna Smoot, who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Democratic candidates, and presided over the Obama campaign's nearly half-billion haul, the administration has placed a person highly skilled in "donor maintenance" at the center of running the White House social operation. Smoot, who has been working as chief of staff of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, becomes the gatekeeper for the guest lists for any number of exclusive events with the president and first lady.
"[Smoot] has no problem dealing with quote-unquote 'important people,' but she doesn't put herself up on a pedestal," Democratic strategist Steve Hildebrand said of Smoot. "She doesn't see herself as a member of the social elite, and she certainly shies away from press." When Rogers wore a Commes des Garcon gown to the state dinner for the Indian prime minister, she garnered as much attention throughout the media as Michelle Obama, which was noted with some displeasure inside the White House.Oh, there's an angle! Michelle needed to be the prettiest. There is the rift, perhaps.
Some of the rules are more explicit than others. "A social secretary's job is to help the first family put their own social mark on the White House," Sheila Tate, Nancy Reagan's former press secretary, told Daily Beast columnist Sandra McElwaine. "If it becomes about them," the social secretary and his or her staffers, "then there's a problem."And here's Danielle Belton at Se7en Magazine:
Boooo! Hissss! The HATERZ won!
As long-time readers know, I love Desiree Rogers. I love all Michelle's homies who rolled into D.C. wanting to set the world on fire in three inch heels. I think they're AWESOME. Look at this woman! Just look at her! She is fierce. Yeah, folks complained with there "Just WHO does that woman think she is?" She knows who she is! She's mutha frakkin' Desiree Rogers! The men all PAUSE when she walks into a room!...
My girl Dezzie just rolls out of a feather bed of opulent ridiculousness and strolls through life on a pair of Sparkle Ponies called "Brains" and "Sex Appeal." That's just her EVERYDAY. Yeah, you're looking at it and you're checking it out. She can't help she's a star and you just want to gaze upon her! Stars are supposed to shine like that!So it's not Michelle?
So you wanted her to be humble and beg you to love her? I'm sorry. Zulu Queens don't DO that. They don't beg. They don't cry. They don't ask for permission. They don't play nice....
Desiree, on the behalf of mere mortals everywhere I just want to say I'm sorry that the world could not handle such an incredible magnitude of New Orleans-by-the-way-of-Chitown black girl savvy. (Don't slap her, because she's NOT in the mood.) And I'm sorry that the awesome was so great that folks had to get all pearl clutchy and go "That WOMAN is TOUCHING our THINGS!" about you being in the White House.... Folks just mad because you can't kick Michelle Obama out the house, so you'll just break out the long-knives on her long-time friend and associate and get all junior high on it.
[Desiree is] leaving and taking all her fabulousness with her... Watch the next social secretary be some boring hump who never says anything worth quoting and doesn't know her Kors from her Balenciaga....And Zennie62 is such a Rogers fan that he trashes Robin Givhan for being too critical:
Rogers caved in to the black haters group or "BHG"; a set of African Americans in and around Washingon D.C. who acted as if they were jealous of Rogers' role as the first African American White House Social Secretary....
... Washington Post Staff Writer and Fashion Editor Robin Givhan, who is seen as another member of the BHG... and spends much of her column essentially trashing Rogers for being confident, extroverted, and attractive...
But the biggest, most powerful member of the BHG is Desiree Rogers herself, and with respect to her decision to listen to that crowd. By doing so, Rogers robs herself of the chance to grow in the position and fails to leave a positive legacy of work as White House Social Secretary. Every time Rogers name comes up, and her accomplishments are discussed, the conversation will always be followed by "yeah, but" and that's too bad.Hmmm. That strikes me as a tad overemotional. How much love do you need if you perceive Givhan as a hater? The drama!
Meanwhile, the next White House Social Secretary is reportedly a white woman, thus calming the fears of the BHG, who can't stand to see someone black, female, confident, and extroverted in a role they think should be filled by a white female who remembered to invite them to the next State Dinner.
All right, that's enough for me. As I said above, if I have to pick, I'm saying it's about getting serious about reelection. Second best theory: Michelle demanded (and deserved) to be the most fabulous woman in the White House.