‘An Unparalled Serpent’: How A Baghdad Newspaper Inspired Madeleine Albright’s Signature Style

Her jewelry is now on display at the LBJ Presidential Library.

By Joy Diaz & Leah ScarpelliOctober 30, 2017 3:05 pm

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Austin for the opening of a new exhibit at the LBJ Presidential Library, called “Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection.”

Albright spoke to Texas Standard host David Brown about the collection.

“I’m glad to be in Texas,” Albright said. “Today I’ve got on my Texas pin, which has stars and cowboy boots and Stetsons.”

She’s famous for her pins, which she’s used for decades as a strategy of creative diplomacy.

“What happened was, when I got [to the U.N.], in February ‘93 [it] was the end of the Gulf War and the ceasefire had been translated into a series of sanctions resolutions,” she said. “I was an instructed ambassador and my instructions were to make sure that the sanctions stayed on. So every day I said perfectly terrible things about Saddam Hussein – which he deserved, he invaded Kuwait. So all of a sudden a poem appeared in the papers in Baghdad comparing me to many things, but among them an unparalleled serpent. And I happened to have a snake pin, so I wore it whenever we talked about Iraq. And then I thought, ‘Well, this is fun.’ So I went out and I bought a bunch of costume jewelry to reflect whatever I thought we were going to do on any given day. So especially when I’m here in Texas I can say the first President Bush said ‘Read my lips, no new taxes.’ So I said ‘Read my pins.’ And that’s how the whole thing started.”

She wanted to use her pins to deliver a message – and not discretely.

“When I was Secretary of State, the Russians were bugging the State Department and we found the guy ultimately sitting outside listening,” she said. “The next time I met with the Russian foreign minister I wore this huge bug and he totally got what was going on.”

Albright took her pins with her on her travels, even in North Korea.

“I wore the biggest American flag you’ve ever seen,” she said. “I thought, ‘What is it like for the Leader to be standing next to an American with a very large flag being very proud?’”

The collection, on display at the LBJ Presidential Library, shows off more than 200 of her signature pins. The exhibit runs until January 21, 2018.