In the latest installment of "this is the world we actually live in," the United States Department of Justice has released photographs of the lavish clothing worn by Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman who's on trial for tax and bank fraud. According to the New York Times, Manafort was a top customer at “the world’s most expensive men’s store,” the House of Bijan in Beverly Hills, and Alan Couture, a defunct boutique in Manhattan that would have been adored by Oscar Wilde. You should care that he spent nearly $1 million on suits, shirts, and an ostrich leather coat because special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to use all of that gear to prove that he was breaking the law. The Mueller team alleges Manafort evaded taxes by wiring money from concealed overseas bank accounts to remodel his homes, buy sleek cars with loud engines, and purchase garments made from exotic animals.
If this isn't conspicuous consumption, I don't know what is. And whatever the prosecution's plans—to show a man dead-set on all-consuming greed, to effectively trap him into giving information about his old boss who's now the leader of the free world—one question remains: Is any of Manafort's wardrobe fashionable?
In an attempt to find an answer, we chatted with Eric McNeal, a talented professional fashion stylist based in New York City. McNeal has dressed celebrities like Rita Ora, Joan Smalls, and Vince Staples, and he's styled runway looks for the Pyer Moss brand at New York Fashion Week. He thought the Manafort debacle was absolute "fuckery."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Do a lot of people go around wearing ostrich jackets?
Eric McNeal: I wouldn't say it's typical. But I really feel like he's one of those people who if someone told him that a jacket was mink, he would just buy it. You know? It just seems like a sham within itself. It's just rich people problems.
Is ostrich popular?
I tend to stay away from any exotics because I feel like it's kind of gross. But there are people who love that stuff and appreciate those types of things. But it's all about context, style, and who made it. Like, who made that ostrich jacket? I don't even know.
Sorry to keep harping on the ostrich. But is ostrich really that expensive?
Any exotic is expensive. But that piece is hideous. And everything he bought is poorly shaped and poorly constructed. Also, where was he wearing these things?
I kind of don't think he's ever worn them.
I think he probably wears them to Mar-a-Lago or something—that's the only place I can think of where you can get away with wearing anything like that.
So, like, we've seen this before? It's just a rich white guy buying stupid shit.
Literally. Rich, out-of-touch white guy buying things with money that's not his. Like the craziest part about this whole thing is that I wish I could go into a store like Saks Fifth Avenue and be like, I'm going to take the merchandise now, but I'm not going to pay you. Instead, I'm going to send you an international wire. That's like layaway or something. This is the biggest layaway scam in history.
More broadly, do you think some of these jackets are stylish? Would you put someone in this stuff?
I hate to curse. But absolutely fucking not. Those are like the most ridiculous outfits. I thought he was going to have really expensive suits like Brioni or Cucinelli or something. When I was in college, I actually worked at Saks Fifth Avenue and sold suits. So I'm really familiar with high-end suits. But a lot of what Manafort was wearing seriously looked like they would be worn by used cars salesmen. You ever seen the movie The Truman Show, with Jim Carrey?
He looks like that new dude on The Price Is Right. What's his name? Drew Carey. His suits look like—and no offense to Drew Carey—Drew Carey's hand-me-downs from when he lost, like, 30 pounds. The plaid one was the worst for me.
Why are we so obsessed with these terrible outfits?
We're all upset. If you're like me, a freelancer, and you pay taxes, or just as an average American in general, you're like, What did he spend money on? Like didn't he get his lawn done in the shape of an "M," and didn't he pay for it with an international wire transfer? We're just obsessed with how ridiculous this whole thing is. And then the fact that the clothing is so hideous. Working in fashion, this is even more funny. This is where you're money went? You should have literally hired me.
He stole all this money and didn't know what to do with it?
It's like Real Housewives of New York—like, "Money can't by you class." Also, who took those photos? They're worse than grail images. Whoever shot these, we need to hold them accountable. They're part of the problem, too.
Do you think this is a massive distraction from the corruption that's actually happening?
Honestly, I feel like everything is a distraction. I feel like we say this with every article, or everything that comes out each week. But I'm not distracted. We just need to be focused and alert, and know what's going on. It's all fuckery. But I'm happy we can lash out at something.
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