One of the funnier story lines of the 2012 presidential campaign was Barack Obama’s decision—or rather, campaign manager Jim Messina’s decision—to inaugurate a fashion line that the campaign sold on its website. This included everything from Thakoon Panichgul silk scarves ($95) to Tory Burch handbags ($75) to Monique Pean hemp-and-cotton scarves ($95) to yoga pants.
The unusual idea came from Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and was roundly mocked by everyone from Fox News (NWS) and the RNC to (more gently) Bloomberg Businessweek, whose crack art staff designed a June magazine cover done up to look like one of those cheapie free-shoppers hawking Obama tube socks, doggy onesies, and scented soy candles. Undeterred, the Obama campaign and Wintour held runway fashion shows in New York and Chicago, featuring such celebrities as Scarlett Johansson. Press was not invited.
For the Obama folks, this was, shall we say, an area of some sensitivity. In my profile of Messina that accompanied the Bloomberg Businessweek cover story, about the only thing he didn’t want to talk about on the record was Wintour and her idea for a designer fashion line. But he made clear that the point of the enterprise was to raise money for the campaign—and why stop at $15 T-shirts, which all campaigns sell, when you could bring in a lot more revenue selling high-priced designer swag? That was the logic.
As Messina revealed in my new Bloomberg Businessweek piece on the Obama tech team, it panned out just fine. “That ended up bringing in just north of $40 million,” Messina told me.
Republicans and other folks (cough, cough) got plenty of laughs at the campaign’s expense. And it was a little ridiculous. But clearly the Obama folks and Wintour have had the last laugh: For any campaign, $40 million is serious money. And the successful fashion gambit would seem to open up all kinds of possibilities for future campaigns: Perhaps Chris Christie-branded bibs or fleeces, or maybe a line of signature Hillary Clinton pantsuits by Vera Wang.
In any event, it wound up being one of the shrewder and more creative moves of the cycle. Compared to “experts” like Karl Rove, who wound up losing hugely, Anna Wintour looks like a budding political genius.