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Paul Manafort’s $15,000 ostrich jacket raises tantalizing questions

August 1, 2018 at 7:20 AM

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is shown in a courtroom sketch on the opening day of his trial Tuesday. (Bill Hennessy/Reuters).

Tuesday was the first day of the first trial to arise from the special counsel’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. The defendant, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, faces unrelated federal charges of financial fraud that could send him to prison for years.

And yet, as the drama unfolded in Alexandria, some observers on the Internet seemed less interested in the intricacies of bank fraud than in that $15,000 ostrich jacket.

In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye accused Manafort of failing to pay taxes on a fortune he earned while working for a political candidate in Ukraine, using the money to live luxuriously. Manafort “got whatever he wanted,” the prosecutor said, including a $2 million house, “a $21,000 watch and a custom, $15,000 jacket made from an ostrich.”

The tantalizing detail prompted a slew of questions on social media. Where did Manafort purchase this lavish coat? What does it look like? What, precisely, does an ostrich jacket even consist of?

Reporters and curious tweeters alike set off on a journey to find the source of the purported ostrich coat. Images of extravagant feathered costumes began to emerge on Twitter. There were allusions to “Sesame Street” and “The Simpsons.” Some even made a thin connection between the ostrich jacket and the former Ukrainian president.

“That should be what he has to wear in jail,” Jimmy Kimmel joked in his Tuesday night show. “That should be his only article of clothing. Just sitting in a cell dressed up like Big Bird, waiting for the trial to start.”

In the search to identify the ostrich coat, an important distinction needed to be made. Assuming Manafort would not choose to step out in public dressed like a bird, his coat was most likely made not from ostrich feathers but from ostrich leather.

Ostrich leather has a distinct quill pattern that has been compared to goose bumps and polka dots. It is one of the world’s most expensive leathers and is also considered one of the toughest, according to the American Ostrich Association (which does, in fact, exist). “Full of natural oils, ostrich leather resists drying, cracking and stiffness,” the association wrote on its website. “Distinctive and comfortable ostrich leather items are attributes of establishment, wealth and recognition.”

The leather, produced from tanning the skins of ostriches, is used in high-end boots, handbags, wallets, belts and, apparently, jackets. Perhaps the most “iconic incarnation,” as one site put it, is the popular Hermès Birkin bag, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars and is carried by the likes of Victoria Beckham.

The leather has, of course, also been a target of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which in 2016 published undercover recordings of the industrial slaughter of ostriches in South African farms.

On the other hand, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has said his favorite footwear is a pair of black ostrich-skin cowboy boots, which he calls his “argument boots.” Buzz Bissinger, the best-selling author of “Friday Night Lights” and self-proclaimed “shopaholic,” told GQ the most expensive leather jacket he owns is made of Gucci ostrich skin, and cost $13,900.

Indeed, when it comes to ostrich leather jackets sold on the Internet, $15,000 is within range. On eBay and Amazon, ostrich leather bomber jackets and trench coats vary in price from $1,000 to $25,000. One high-end consignment site lists a “slate suede ostrich Gucci trench coat” with wool lining for an estimated retail price of $16,500.

Jezebel writer Katie McDonough suspected Manafort’s coat might be Gucci’s Ostrich Leather Biker Jacket, which retailed for a reported $14,500 in 2012. “Add in taxes, or assume that the prosecutors opted to round up as a dramatic flourish in an opening statement, and it seems as though we have a contender,” McDonough wrote.

Amazon offers several options by the Italian brand Brioni, a personal favorite of President Trump. A Brioni Navy Blue Ostrich Leather Bomber Jacket can be purchased for $20,000 and a Brioni Beige Ostrich Leather with Mink Fur Coat is listed for $25,0000.

Susannah Breslin, a contributing journalist to Forbes, reached out to Brioni, wondering if it may have been the source of Manafort’s jacket. Perhaps the former campaign manager had taken after the fashion tastes of his former boss. A Brioni representative told Breslin the brand hadn’t offered an ostrich leather jacket in 13 to 15 years. (But he did suggest an alligator jacket, retailed for $85,000).

Another possibility is House of Bijan, considered “the costliest menswear in the world.” Manafort is known to be a frequent shopper of the high-end Beverly Hills designer, according to a list of potential exhibits filed by prosecutors ahead of Manafort’s trial.

(Court documents show that Manafort spent $849,000 at one men’s clothing shop in New York City in 34 visits over six years. Another clothing store, in Beverly Hills, collected $520,000 from Manafort on nine dates over five years, about $58,000 per visit, The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher reported.)

Breslin asked House of Bijan if Manafort had shopped at its store and if it had sold an ostrich leather men’s jacket. A general manager declined to answer either inquiry, but said House of Bijan men’s jackets range from $8,800 up to $195,000 “depending on the material and particular exotic skin.”

To some observers, Manafort’s ostrich jacket became yet another symbol of the Washington elite, the latest of many luxury items associated with Trump’s inner circle.

There was former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof phone booth and the $2,749.62 he reportedly spent on “tactical pants” and “tactical polos.” There was Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s $31,561 conference table set. And of course, there was that Instagram post from Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, name-dropping the brands of her outfit as she stepped off a government plane: Roland Mouret trousers, Valentino sandals, Tom Ford sunglasses and an Hermès scarf.

The ostrich jacket Internet saga does not end there, however. It apparently leads us all the way to Ukraine, where Manafort had ties to a Russia-friendly political party and former president Viktor Yanukovych

Yanukovych, it turns out, “was also very fond of ostriches, especially at the private zoo at his residence,” tweeted Paula Chertok, a linguist and lawyer who analyzes Russian and Ukrainian propaganda and media.

The residence of the ousted president, outside Kiev, reportedly had a man-made lake, 24-carat-gold bathroom fixtures and yes, a private zoo with ostriches. In an exchange in 2015, a BBC reporter pressed him about the zoo on his land. Yanukovych claimed the property did not actually belong to him, and the ostriches “just happened to be there.”

“I supported the ostriches,” Yanukovych said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Watch more!
Before he joined the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort hadn’t been seen around Washington in a while. He had made a name for himself in the D.C. lobbying world, but he made a fortune overseas, advising strongmen and doing business with oligarchs. Then his past caught up with him. (Dalton Bennett , Jon Gerberg, Jesse Mesner-Hage/The Washington Post)

Samantha Schmidt is a reporter covering gender and family issues.

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