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There’s a Lot More to Ella Emhoff, Inauguration Star, Than Her Fabulous Coat

Alaina Demopoulos
·7-min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos Getty

This much is certain: Ella Emhoff wore a great coat. It came from Miu Miu, which is a subsidiary of Prada. It was full-length, fawn-colored plaid, with a high neckline and crystal embellishments. The aesthetic skews sort of girl detective doing a homage to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s collar after purchasing a bedazzle gun on eBay.

Much like the radiant canary yellow coat and ruby red headband inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wore—both by Prada—Emhoff’s look injected a rousing dose of personality and sheer fun into an event that’s not often seen as a one-day fashion week. The fashion press went collectively doolally over Emhoff’s “it person” style.

Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris’ Husband, Already Has a #DougHive of Fans

A Glamour headline read, “Ella Emhoff, Second Daughter, Run Me Over in That Coat.” An InStyle writer put it more bluntly: “I Need Ella Emhoff to Be My Best Friend.” People on Twitter described the coat as “quirky” and “sharp”—whatever that means.

Emhoff, who is 22 and lives in Brooklyn, will graduate from Parsons this year. Both Emhoff and representatives for the design school did not respond to my requests for comment.

On Instagram, where she has over 206,000 followers, Emhoff oozes an ambiguous coolness. She makes her own rainbow knitwear (sorry, commissions currently closed), and has a cartoon cow tattoo blazed over her left arm.

More ink—her dog’s name, a “little flower” and a salmon fish with a flower hanging out of its mouth—was done by Emhoff herself, because she got bored during quarantine.

Depending on where you ended up in life, you absolutely know an Ella Emhoff. Maybe it’s the childhood friend who grew up to make $100 ceramic joint holders. Perhaps she’s your child, forging a life for herself in the city that you don’t quite understand but are happy to support.

Or maybe, if you’re reading this wearing vintage pajamas and slippers made out of recycled sheep’s wool, you are her.

“She’s affirming any of us who have ever lived in Bushwick and written a zine,” Justine Carreon of Elle wrote. “She is the face of Juuling on the subway platform.” A popular, probably self-deprecating tweet read, “As an artsy teen, I feel the need to note how much Ella Emhoff’s representation means to us.”

But of course, Emhoff typifies a rich, white, and socially connected woman who never truly lacked adequate “representation.” Her father, Doug Emhoff, was a well-known entertainment litigator before becoming second gentleman. Her mother Kerstin runs a film production company and attended the inauguration with her children.

Ella and her brother Cole, 26, went to the private Wildwood High School in Los Angeles, which costs $43,665 a year. Like me, Emhoff lives in Bushwick, one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in New York.

If you walk around the streets, you will see plenty of second daughter lookalikes wearing bucket hats and patchwork jeans. That’s no diss to Emhoff—most New York art students look the same.

Emhoff is no Ivanka Trump, but she is a woman thrust into politics by her family. That means she has at least one thing in common with the former first daughter: people are bound to project their own feelings about the current administration onto her.

On liberal Twitter, this came off as celebrating Emhoff as a Gen Z flag-bearer who puts the “radical” in what MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt curiously described as Joe Biden’s “radical normalcy.” That’s a lot of worship for someone who most Americans did not know existed until yesterday. Sure, she seems nice online, but let’s keep this all in perspective.

On a day I will remember as historic only because it gave us a parade of amazing coats, Emhoff absolutely wore the best one. (I believe that’s an objective statement, but feel free to defend Harris’ Christopher John Rogers until your last breath.) I took a picture of Emhoff on CNN and sent it to my editor, best friend, and former coworker with the caption “!!!!”

Then the coat was identified as a Miu Miu number costing just shy of $5,000, and I remembered the only way I could afford it myself is if I paid for it on layaway with my paltry $600 stimulus check—and forgot about rent.

And so Emhoff’s fashion choices became part of the day’s pageantry, which can feel hollow given, you know, everything going on in the world. This is no fault of her own. Two things can be true: one can be weary of establishment politicians while also acknowledging that the stepdaughter of one wears the heck out of some clothes.

Emhoff gave one fashion interview to Vogue explaining her burgundy inauguration dress, which was mostly hidden by her Miu Miu coat.

“My mood board was very 'little girl,' in a sense, a lot of scalloped collars and big silhouette shoulders and small buttons,” she said. “I was going for something girlier, to embrace my feminine side... because, like, how many times do you prepare yourself to attend an inauguration? This momentous event deserves a momentous outfit."

Representatives for Miu Miu did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. A representative for Thom Browne wrote in an email that the preppy ensemble Emhoff wore to a coronavirus memorial the night before the swearing-in was loaned to her. Translation: she did not purchase it herself, but it was also not gifted—she has to give it back.

First ladies are expected to buy their own clothes—it’s viewed as inappropriate for them to accept freebies—but Emhoff charts new territory with her title. She’s both the second daughter and a fledgling designer and budding fashion industry darling. It remains to be seen how she wields her influence and pays for her clothes... or not. (The celebrity styling team Jill Lincoln and Jordan Johnson, who have a working relationship with Kerstin Emhoff, pulled the pieces.)

A question on my mind: will Emhoff be in D.C. representing her family often, or was Wednesday a one-off, and it is back to Bushwick? “It’s really tough to anticipate,” said Lauren Rothman, a stylist based in the capitol. “In my experience with extended political families, everyone has to figure out their role. I think she is one to watch.”

Rothman added that she’s had “a lot” of requests for long coats from clients who were enamored with Emhoff’s take. “That’s the biggest trend of 2021: practical fashion,” she said. “She was wearing something very practical, classic, with some sparkle. That made all the difference.”

Safy-Hallan Farah writes the pop culture newsletter Hip to Waste. A few days before the inauguration, she published an essay titled “The Rarest Aesthetic: on Ella Emhoff’s Countersignalling, Hot Girl Maximalism and Alterna-Gurls.”

“She has an aesthetic that signals cool in a lower, supposedly less bombast register than Sasha [Obama],” Farah wrote of Emhoff. “But the thing is... true aesthetes can hear the whisper of old money. That’s the whole deal of something I’ve taken to calling ‘conspicuous minimalism’: a style that calls attention to itself while it postures as if it’s not trying to do that.’”

Over direct message, Farah told me that she “love[s]” Emhoff’s Miu Miu coat. “It’s not everyday that we get something so bedazzled yet somehow not flashy, something a bit more on the subdued side while standing out and truly eclipsing others’ ensembles—all at once,” Farah said. “I think she managed to shrewdly negotiate her personal style with the drab style of the politicians she was surrounded by, which is quite the feat. While it might be a bit of a departure from her usual style, I still think it speaks to her general sensibility.”

For her part, Emhoff returned to Instagram the day after the swearing-in to promote a raffle held by her favorite tattoo artist, the mononymous Ella. Proceeds from the raffle will go to Black Yard Farm Coop, a Black and POC-led farm cooperative in the Bronx.

Then she reposted a selfie taken underneath the Capitol dome with the caption, “Also thank you so much for all the support and love in the past few days it has really meant a lot.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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