Mr. Chatterbox

Our Humor Columnist Shops for Trump Merchandise

Mr. C sets out to examine some important questions about Trump merchandise: Is it any good? What does it say about the family that has created it? And where can you buy it in Sarasota?

By Robert Plunket March 29, 2017 Published in the April 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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The president says his administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, and who am I to judge? I know nothing about meeting with Russians or banning Muslims. But I do know something about merchandising. After all, I have my own “line” of vintage jewelry and it’s carried in two locations, Designing Women Boutique and Retro Rosie’s up in Bradenton. So I can say that the president’s merchandising efforts—I’m talking consumer goods, not real estate—are, as he might put it: “A big mess, folks! Not good!”

Actually, most of the Trump goods are a merchandising disaster at the moment. Stores won’t carry them, consumers are boycotting, lawsuits have been filed, and some of the lines are dormant or defunct. And with all this fuss about ethics and illegal self-enrichment, they may yet cause a Constitutional crisis.

I set out to examine some important questions about Trump merchandise: Is it any good? What does it say about the family that has created it? And where can you buy it in Sarasota?

My first stop was Macy’s at the UTC mall. I went into women’s apparel and looked around for anything by Ivanka Trump. There was nothing, as far as I could see. Feeling a little trepidatious about saying the word “Trump” to a stranger—the way we all are these days—I screwed up my courage and asked a salesgirl. A look of terror came into her eyes. From the ensuing babble, I gathered that the store did not carry Ivanka, although there might be some stuff in Clearance.

Next I went over to men’s fragrances. “Do you carry Donald Trump’s ‘Success?’” I asked. This salesgirl made a different face, like I had pinched her real hard. Again with the babbling. Her boss over at the cash register saw what was going on and came barreling over. “We don’t carry it,” she said, looking me right in the eye. “I wish we did. I’d buy it personally. I’d buy it all.”

“OK,” I replied, desperate to get out of there.

“Try Dillard’s,” she sniffed.

At Dillard’s the saleswoman gave a merry laugh, like I’d said the funniest thing in the world. “We don’t carry it,” she said, still chuckling.

“Macy’s said you did.”

The laughter stopped. Her eyes narrowed. “Why would Macy’s say that?”

So here is the first problem with Trump merchandise: embarrassing social interactions when purchased in person. And the second problem: Here in Sarasota, the department stores don’t stock it. You might find some at Goodwill. But otherwise you have to go online. And even that isn’t easy. Many of the famous things the family sold—like Trump steaks—are no longer available. (Although I hear you can find the steaks at Trump hotels.)

The president will sell anything, and he’s gotten in trouble for it. But leaving aside fiascos like his university, he has actually put together an acceptable clothing line.

It’s all about the ties. That’s where your eye goes—a jolt of bright, shiny color. They are always noticeable. Just think how that red necktie, almost comically long, dominated the campaign. Lesson: Here is a man who understands the power of the necktie. Listen to him.

On the other hand, the clothes themselves, the suits and slacks and jackets, are fatally bland. Republican businessmen wear them, or the equivalent, every day. They’re designed so that big, solid men look good in them. They’re certainly not gauche, but they don’t have much style.

The Trump watches do have style. They are big (or “bold” in the advertising copy) and each seems to be an imitation of a more famous watch. One or two are gloriously goony. They don’t seem to make them anymore, but they do turn up on eBay. Most run $300 to $500, which indicates a high-quality used watch. As with ties, Trump understands the way men feel about their watches. They’re a crucial part of male status and the only piece of jewelry a man is allowed, so they have to make a statement.

Melania is no longer actively selling anything I could find, but starting back in 2010 she had her line of jewelry on QVC. The gimmick was inexpensive copies of her own jewels. It was famous for selling out in the first 45 minutes, although later it didn’t do as well.

It’s a shame, because Melania studied design back in Ljubljana and actually knew how to sketch. And she’d been around beautiful things thanks to her modeling career. But her products turned out to be even shinier than her husband’s ties. There’s so much reflected light—sparkling rhinestone and shiny silvertone metal. It’s rather emotionless jewelry, and I find it unfortunate that she chose to sell “lab-created” copies of her 20-carat diamond engagement ring, priced at $141.63 on eBay.

Call me old-fashioned, but a lady—particularly a First Lady—doesn’t sell copies of her engagement ring on TV.

All this is nothing compared to the heartbreak of Melania’s skincare line, centered on caviar-infused anti-aging cream. She worked on it for years and even tested it on Barron, slathering him head-to-toe every night before she tucked him into bed. But she got mixed up with the wrong people. According to the shopping website Racked, her business partners, friends of her husband’s, were involved in race tracks and tanning salons and eventually ended up suing each other, claiming, among other things, that one had tried to pressure the other one’s wife into a sexual threesome. Melania, blameless, had her dreams of business success crushed, and in the court documents she sounds very bitter. She sued back, asking for $50 million in damages.

The merchandising star in the family is Ivanka. Unlike her scattershot father, she is very focused and knows exactly what she’s doing. Her designs are all about the long, thin line. Everything—dresses, pants, even earrings—is designed to flatter the woman of the moment: the 30- or 40- year-old, in great physical shape, with a very good job.

Ivanka’s clothing is not just some vanity project; it’s a real business. She’s particularly famous for her shoes and boots, which people make terrible fun of online. In fact, the customer reviews of Trump products are a microcosm of what the country is going through. Both sides hurl insults at each other. Some of them are rather clever. One man complained about his new Trump shirt: “The cuffs are too small for normal-sized hands.”

There are two standouts in the various Trump collections. One is Ivanka’s jewelry, graceful and subtle and very refined. The other is her father’s deodorant, which along with the matching cologne, can still be readily found. There’s “Success,” which promises “the spirit of the driven man,” and “Empire,” which “demands attention.” I am not sure I’m looking for that in a deodorant, but consumers love it.

Trump wine is pretty good, too. “A little sweet,” the guy at Total Wine said, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve already been back for two more bottles. Not to drink so much as collect. I’ve also bought some of Melania’s bracelets, several Trump ties, a tie tack, and a polo shirt that says “Trump International Golf Resort,” which I wore to a party and got spit on by a guest.

The irony is that just as the Trumps reach their apogee of power, their supply of merchandise is shrinking. Grab it while you can, folks. Just think how much this stuff is going to be worth a hundred years from now—if there is a hundred years from now.

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