In Netflix’s recent hit series The Diplomat, Keri Russell plays Kate Wyler, another American woman appointed ambassador to the UK. Wyler chafes against ‘the Cinderella thing’ and has to be cajoled into wearing the right dress for a Vogue photo shoot. Hartley, only the second woman to serve as ambassador to the UK, seems to enjoy the aspects of the job that her fictional counterpart disdains. Including fashion. ‘I like clothes,’ she nods. ‘I have my own style and it hasn’t really changed from New York to here. But fashion is soft diplomacy. It’s important – the clothes you wear represent who you are and how you want to be perceived.’
Fashion journalists tend to ascribe meaning and divine messages to outfits worn by high-profile figures, rarely getting to ask if our interpretations were correct. The ambassador acknowledges that she thinks about how to deploy her outfits ‘to make statements in a positive way’. For events around the anniversary of the start of Russia’s assault on Ukraine in February, she wore a blue dress to her public engagements one day and a yellow coat the next, a coupling that evoked the Ukrainian flag. ‘That was intentional.’
She also wore blue and yellow for her Senate confirmation hearings. The day she was confirmed by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (‘unanimously, I might add’), she chose white, signifying empowerment for women. She selected a different white dress to present her credentials to the Queen.
She wore French designers in France and tries to wear mainly British and American in London. Along with Tory Burch, she favours Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen, Erdem and Emilia Wickstead. ‘I try to mix it. I like Stella McCartney and I’ve also gotten to know Self-Portrait.’ She wore a pink dress from the brand to host a Barbie screening at Winfield, aka the Ambassador’s Dreamhouse, in July. On her rare quiet weekend, she likes to take Bear, her Australian Shepherd, for walks around Marylebone. Her strolls are helping her get acquainted with the ‘fantastic’ British high street. Some aspects of British dress still elude her, however. ‘I’ve yet to find a hat that looks good on me. I’m still looking.’
Hartley, now 73, has served three presidents since she first went to Washington, aged 21. After a job in the Carter White House, she bounced between the private and public sectors, working as a broadcast executive and CEO to economic and political advisory firms including G7 Group and Observatory Group. In 2004, she happened to be standing near the stage at the Democratic Convention in Boston when a near-unknown state senator named Barack Obama ascended to speak. ‘He gave a speech that I will never forget as long as I live,’ she says. ‘I remember going home and calling a friend from Chicago and asking, “Is this guy for real?” And they said, “He’s very much for real.”’
Hartley became one of Obama’s top fundraisers. Following his re-election, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett rang her, asking, ‘So what do you think about France?’ She served as ambassador to France and Monaco from 2014 to 2017, a period during which France endured the Charlie Hebdo shooting, Bataclan rampage and Nice truck attack. ‘I went to France expecting my role to be focused on economic issues, trade and cultural exchange. Instead, key things I was dealing with were counterintelligence, law enforcement and military.’ At the end of her term, President François Hollande awarded her the Legion of Honour in recognition of her work. ‘Even in difficult times, you have to lead.’