Where Melania Trump’s great hat auction went wrong

From colonial-style hats to the now notorious “I really don’t care” jacket, Melania Trump’s wardrobe was a talking point throughout her time in the White House. 

And her fashion choices are back in the spotlight after the former first lady decided to auction off the white, wide-brimmed hat that she wore when she and Donald Trump hosted their first state visit at the presidential residence.

The hat was custom designed by French-American designer Herve Pierre for the South Lawn arrival ceremony for Emmanuel Macron in April 2018 and “garnered media attention worldwide”, said a press release from the Office of Melania Trump in January announcing the online auction.

The so-called Head of State Collection sale featured what was billed as “three important one-of-a-kind signed items”: the hat, a watercolour showing her wearing it by Paris-based artist Marc-Antoine Coulon, and “an exclusive digital artwork NFT with motion”.

‘Victim of the crash’

The auction began on 11 January and was intended to open with a minimum bid equivalent to $250,000 (£186,000). Bids “were only accepted in the cryptocurrency of the Solana blockchain called SOL, which was then trading at a price of about $170 per token”, The New York Times (NYT) reported.

But the former first lady’s “much-discussed” online sale became “a victim of the crash in the cryptocurrency market”, said the paper.

SOL had “enjoyed the title of ‘Ethereum Killer’ till a few weeks ago”, said The Economic Times, in a reference to the popular rival cryptocurrency. But along with many other digital currencies, SOL “has lost its mojo”.

When the auction closed early on Wednesday, each SOL was worth about $95. 

Only a handful of bids appear to have been made, “each hovering around the required minimum bid of 1,800 Solana tokens”, said the NYT. The final listed bid was equivalent to around $170,000, “with the exact dollar value fluctuating along with the volatile crypto market”.

The “deflated results” are likely to disappoint Trump, “who could hold on to the Solana tokens and hope that their value increases”, the paper continued. But “the dip in value might continue, leaving her with an even smaller take”.

The former first lady “had promised that part of the proceeds – not all, but part – would go to help children in foster care learn something vague and unspecified about computers and technology”, wrote Robin Givhan at The Washington Post.

But Trump had not said “how much of the proceeds she will keep herself”, the NYT reported. NFT-backed cryptocurrency auctions have “become a magnet for celebrities” including Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and Snoop Dogg, the paper added. Trump held another NFT auction, in December, at which virtual watercolours of her eyes titled Melania’s Vision sold for $150 each.

But “it remains unclear if the virtual currency system is reliable enough to build a profitable business”.

Break from tradition

The then first lady’s choice of the “striking” French-designed hat to meet the French president back in 2018 marked “one of the rare occasions for which Trump seemed to dress with diplomatic vision in mind”, said Robin Givhan at The Washington Post.

Critics argue that her decision to sell the hat was less well judged, however. An anonymous former White House staffer from the Trump era told CNN: “It’s unseemly. She is trying to build herself a nest-egg of cash built upon a role that the American people elected her husband for her to inhabit.”

Traditionally, “much of a first lady’s wardrobe” is cataloged and archived during her time in the White House, and later “given to a presidential library or a museum”, according to the broadcaster.

Though Trump has every right to sell items from her collection, “it is inconsistent with what other former first ladies have done”, said Mark Updegrove, head of the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation, a non-profit organisation that supports the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. 

Trump’s predessors generally donated “items to the National Archives and presidential libraries in the interest of preserving history and giving back to the American people”, Updegrove added. 

CNN approached Trump’s office “numerous times” for clarification on how much of the hat sale proceeds would go to charity, but reportedly received no response. 


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