March 3, 2010

Mourning the loss of Desiree Rogers as White House social secretary.

It's Robin Givhan, crying for fashion:
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?
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.
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?

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.

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.
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.
"[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 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. 
So it's not Michelle?
[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.

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.
Hmmm. That strikes me as a tad overemotional. How much love do you need if you perceive Givhan as a hater? The drama!

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.


Hoosier Daddy said...

In federal Washington, after all, a modest Armani suit still can get one a best-dressed award.

Of all the suits I have ever owned, I will always treasure the one Armani I in my closet.

Susan said...

The men all PAUSE when she walks into a room!...

This is just... not in close correspondence with reality.

Pogo said...

"In federal Washington, after all, a modest Armani suit still can get one a best-dressed award."

Should taxpayers be shelling out enough of their pay to buy congressman and their appointees suits that they themselves cannot afford?

Shanna said...

Hired a host of attractive young staffers

Who, on their probably paltry salaries, were forced to buy ridiculously expensive clothes and accessories! In the middle of a recession!

Shanna said...

It actually sounds like she was more interested in being fashionable herself than doing her job.

AllenS said...

This is not a very flattering story about black women.

Joan said...

From the first link to The Black Snob site, a quote pulled from Politico: “My impression is that there is more public eye attached to this social secretary than ever before. White House staff tend to do their jobs quietly and then they recede,” said William Seale, author of “The President’s House.” “There is a time, within my memory, that being in the public eye would have been looked down upon as inappropriate, but times change.”

Times haven't changed that much, or the Great Wheel has turned and turned again, and here we are again at a place where people don't think behavior like Rogers' is appropriate.

The racism is stunning over on that Black Snob site, but I guess that's what should be expected from a site called The Black Snob.

holdfast said...

How in hell is Michelle Obama still considered fashionable? She wore curtains to the inauguration, she wore a belt that looked like it came from a failed suicide bomber, and she frequently wears stupid cardigans which seem to do nothing but highlight her ample rear. Occasionally she has worn some nice dresses, but she also pulls some utter disasters, like on the first visit to London.

Just because Givhan wants a fellow black woman to be fashionable, does not make Michelle fashionable. Any maybe if Rogers had been doing her f'n job instead of worrying about the labels on her dress she would still have a job.

Pogo said...

"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"

This makes me want to scream.
The White House isn't for fabulousness and 'make-my-own-rules attitude' and 'stars that are supposed to shine' and knowing Kors from Balenciaga.

Pigs at the trough.
Goddamit, people are out of work now 6-12-24 months.
Who are these people?
Grifters all.

john said...

"To see the Latin entertainers perform, to see them keep them looking back ..."

But were they real Latins, and do we have to keep them looking back?

Palladian said...

Reading all this just inflames my already mounting desire to take up a pitchfork and torch, start singing La Marseillaise and join the levée en masse marching towards the gates of Versailles.

The entire problem is that the current administration are more concerned with the difference between Nina Ricci and Lanvin than the difference between pretend aristocrats like themselves and competent elected officials. People who care deeply about fashion are by definition already too stupid to trust with the future of our Republic.

It is perhaps unfortunate that le guillotine does not await at the end of the road out of Washington.

AJ Lynch said...

"Platinum resume"?

That may be a stretch when one of Roger's big jobs was a patronage position as Director of the Illinois State Lottery and another was in marketing for Exelon, the huge electric company.

Does it require highly skilled people to market electricity to customers WHEN YOUR COMPANY IS A MONOPOLY?

Joe said...

It actually sounds like she was more interested in being fashionable herself than doing her job.

Shanna nails it for me! The job of the Staff, any staff, White House, or Congressional, or corporate is to make the boss(es) look good, not be seen, or make statements, or have fun....your job is to make the boss(es) look good, something Desiree Rogers seems to have forgotten or never to have learned.

Joan said...

AJ, don't confuse us with facts!

k*thy said...

Yes, to use a baseball analogy, they're pulling the starting pitcher and moving on to the middle reliever...

I'll vote with Shanna and Nancy's former press secretary. Desiree had other plans for the position and can't go the distance.

AJ Lynch said...


Sorry about that. When Obamacare is enacted, I am hoping I can get treatment for my addiction to facts :)

John Lynch said...

I think it was more to do with fucking up on the job. Repeated gaffes, like sending the wrong DVDs to the UK, letting in crashers, and so on. Most of those mistakes were covered on this blog.

Social secretary is a job to be done for the President. It's not about self-promotion. In fact, I didn't even know there was a social secretary before this one. That's a bad sign, isn't it?

Palladian said...

Givhan, who is astounding proof that good sense, intelligence and the ability to write are not prerequisites for success in the American print media, seems to be substituting Federal for Imperial. These pretended aristocrats seem to always forget that Americans don't enjoy being subjects.

David said...

Gee, I could have sworn that she was fired for f**king up one of the easiest jobs at the White House.

Frankly, their willingness to let her go says relatively good things about the White House. Now, let's see how long Rahm can survive despite his obvious disloyalty.

David said...

Remember: Washington is where you go if you are not good looking enough to make it in Hollywood, or smart enough to make it in New York.

The Drill SGT said...

Joe has it right.

The Job of the staff and particularly the Social Secretary is to make the Boss look good, not to garner press for oneself.

The replacement seems to understand that.

David said...

Hi David.

Palladian said...

And who could forsee that embarrasing racial essentialism would one day merge with out-of-touch wealthy imperiousness?

There's something really... Late Roman Empire about celebrating a black woman's ability to become a self-promoting fashionable douchebag, isn't there? But hey, it's symbolism that's important, not competence. Trouble is, the current crop are even incompetent at the symbolism...

AJ Lynch said...

So Palladian, will the Obama admin's poor performance make more Americans color-blind?

gardeningasylum said...

Queen bee syndrome anyone? Whether it was MO or Valerie Jarrett, somebody didn't like this amazingly beautiful, well-qualified woman :)

Bill White said...

Ann, you cited one of the NYT blogs in your post. I'm thinking that in a decade or so the NYT will just be a loose collection of blogs under the NYT brand. And they'll be making more money than they are now. (or has someone already thought of this?)

TosaGuy said...

I hate people who use the word savvy.

MayBee said...

I think this WH is brilliant in that they manage to throw themselves huge, celebrity-filled parties in the midst of the "Worst Recession Since the Great Depression" while packaging them as something deeply meaningful to the people.

At the time of the Latin party, the unemployment rate for Hispanics in Californ stood at 15.7%. At least JLo had the sense not to sing her Louboutin song. For the people.

edutcher said...

The woman lost her job because she didn't want (or know how) to do it. She's the one who is supposed, along with the Secret Service, to make sure the party crashers don't get in. Instead of making sure everybody who walked through the front door was on the list, she was too busy being at the party "being seen".

No fan of Barry, but she is the female counterpart of the Union soldier on guard outside Lincoln's box. She could have gotten him shot.

John Lynch said...

I think it was more to do with fucking up on the job. Repeated gaffes, like sending the wrong DVDs to the UK, letting in crashers, and so on. Most of those mistakes were covered on this blog.

I think the DVDs were, like a number of other petty gestures, more Barry's idea, revenge for Dad, you know.

kimsch said...

I liked this dress and thought she looked good in it. Far better than the orange dress - blue/green cardigan combo she wore for the Iron Chef special.

This part of the Latin band quote caught my eye: "...the newly elected Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor..."

Does the (former)Social Secretary of the White House actually think that Supreme Court Justices are elected????

wv: haphts

caplight said...

Self promotion in the face of stunningly poor performance doesn't work at this moment in time. she was wanting to do the end zone dance before she scored the TD.

Peter V. Bella said...

"You mean they practiced lookism?"

Corrction, they are practicing Lookism. That is all this administration is about- looks. They are all Lookists.

Avierra said...

I liked this dress and thought she looked good in it. Far better than the orange dress - blue/green cardigan combo she wore for the Iron Chef special.

Why, oh why does she keep wearing clothes that cut her off at the waist? Can't she look in the mirror and see that's a horrible look for her? That Iron Chef outfit is an abomination of a choice for her, and the colors... just atrocious. Isn't there someone (Like Oh, say, a social secretary) that is supposed to help make our president and first lady look their best? Michelle Obama is quite attractive if she would only dress to her strengths and quit trying to emphasize her waist and boobs. UGH.

I sound like a fashionista and nothing is further from the truth... if I can plainly see that she dresses horribly, it should be self-evident to her as well. Jeez. Maybe Barack Obama is one of those husbands who is afraid to honestly answer the question of whether or not his wife's dress makes her look fat. It's actually worse than that, it makes her look UGLY (and she is not an ugly woman).

Hey said...

First, Republicans don't do fashion because the media will go after them for being out of touch aristos. Can you IMAGINE Republican staffers doing photos with Birkin bags???

Secondly, Laura Bush had good relationships with designers, especially Oscar de la Renta, to get gowns for major events.

Thirdly, NO STAFFER with half a brain should ever be wearing Louboutin or Lanvin in Washington. It either demonstrates that you have family money and don't care, that you're making far too much money, or that you're an arriviste wasting your money on brands. If you do have personal or family money, you spend it on vacations, real estate, traditional pursuits (skiing, sailing, polo...), and only wear nice things when you're away from DC.

Independently wealthy Secretaries can do what they want, but they usually have PR people running their wardrobes - even Dem plutocrats can't be seen to exult in their advantages while they're in public service.

As to what kind of suit you should wear - anyone with a political role can't go wrong with Brooks Brothers. Standard, not flashy, easily replaced most anywhere in the country (very, very important for peripatetic staffers during campaigns or departmental travel). If you do go for bespoke, you don't talk about it and no one is likely to pick it out (especially Robin Givhan). But the way that people without a profile work will completely destroy bespoke clothes at such a pace to be ruinous to anyone on less than an 8 digit salary.

MayBee said...

First, Republicans don't do fashion because the media will go after them for being out of touch aristos.

Remember how Vanity Fair posted an inflammatory (and inflated) estimate of Cindy McCain's Convention dress?
Oh, it was an outrage for her to dress so rich. People on the left still talk about it.

Cindy McCain wore expensive fashion and, although she goes on medical rescue missions frequently, was painted as an out of touch ice queen.

Michelle Obama wore/wears expensive fasion and, although she got paid to kick people out of her emergency room, gets painted as a fashionista who wants to help us.

Fen said...

Obama would not be POTUS if he were white. So I can see why Roger's thought fashion would mask incompetence.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

"I liked this dress and thought she looked good in it. Far better than the orange dress - blue/green cardigan combo she wore for the Iron Chef special."

I just want to point out that Ms. Obama looked absolutely fabulous here.

Shame that no one told her that the "hot cocktail party" look is not appropriate for a ceremony to award a posthumous Medal of Honor to a fallen solider.
- Lyssa

ken in sc said...

When I was on active duty in Korea, on a small airbase in Taegu, the Black Airman’s Committee was asked what they wanted the base to do for Martin Luther King Day. This was in the late 80s. Their choice, a fashion show. Later, when I was a middle school teacher, one of my fellow teachers had an English assignment in which she asked students to write about what they wanted people to remember about them. Many black students said they wanted to be remembered as being a nice dresser. It seems to be a theme.