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Take Heart, Melania: First Ladies Can Have Clothing Lines If They Wait Long Enough

Samantha Cameron, former first lady of Britain, unveils her new collection.

Samantha Cameron at a fashion show Photo: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

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A new collection called Cefinn hit Net-a-Porter today with a bit more fanfare than usual, all thanks to its designer: Samantha Cameron, the former “first lady” of the UK.

And while the First Lady of the United States has caused an uproar over the suggestion that she might do such a thing, Cameron and her collection of expensive-yet-staid workwear have been met with loads of praise.

Just eight months after her husband, David Cameron, resigned as prime minister following the controversial Brexit vote, Cameron has unveiled a clothing collection sold at Net-A-Porter, Selfridges, and online on Cefinn.com. The news was first announced on Vogue UK’s website in November, and the clothes are featured in the January print issue of the magazine.

All with little, if any, controversy.

In fact, the British press has been mostly neutral or praise-worthy. “That Samantha Cameron is the first first lady to embark on the spousal equivalent of the after-dinner speech circuit by monetizing the modern obsession with her wardrobe is a mark of Cameron’s instinctive grasp of fashion, business and the modern world,” wrote the Guardian.

That may be because, before her husband became prime minister, Cameron had an entire career as the creative director of Smythson, where she steered the stationary brand into fashion over the course of 14 years. She also struck up appropriate, popular diplomatic relations with the fashion industry during her time at Downing Street, working with the British Fashion Council and attending runway shows.

Still, these days, an American observer might raise an eyebrow at the apparent leveraging of political prestige for hard, cold commerce.

The Trumps have ushered the phrase “conflict of interest” into the national conversation in an unprecedented manner, proving that a family with multiple product lines can now use the power and prestige of the Oval Office to boost their bottom lines.

And while the rest of the Trumps try to maintain the illusion of separation between their corporate holdings and political positions, First Lady Melania Trump isn’t hiding her ambitions: In a libel lawsuit filed last week, her lawyers argued she had a “unique, once in a lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, to launch a broad-based commercial brand” that could have earned millions “for a multi-year term during which [she] is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

Could she, though? It depends on how she does it — it’s illegal for the president to profit from the presidency, but laws around the first lady are murky. As the Washington Post explains, any commercial use of official White House logos, events, or images could be a constitutional violation; any commercial success for Melania that could be construed as a shared gain for her husband would also be against the law.

Notably, a few first ladies, including Eleanor Roosevelt, starred in commercials and shilled products while their husbands were in office. But those first ladies donated the profits to charity — which is not something that, based on the language of the libel lawsuit, Melania seems intent on doing.

For both the potential legal repercussions and the inevitable backlash, Melania should be advised: If she does want to revive her caviar beauty line or “Timepieces & Jewelry” collection on QVC, her best bet appears to be simply waiting it out.