Michelle Obama loved fash­ion, and fash­ion loved her back

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The morn­ing af­ter Michelle Obama's big speech at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in 2012, in which she ar­gued pas­sion­ately for a sec­ond term for her hus­band, de­signer Tracy Reese's phone was ring­ing. And ring­ing.

Mrs Obama's pow­er­fully de­liv­ered speech had at­tracted much at­ten­tion - but these phone calls were about her dress. A shim­mer­ing sleeve­less sheath in rose and sil­very gray, it was pretty uni­ver­sally con­sid­ered a fash­ion slam dunk. And cus­tomers wanted it.

There was only one prob­lem, Reese re­calls: "We didn't have in­ven­tory - we had made that dress cus­tom." And so the la­bel went into pro­duc­tion. "And peo­ple waited," Reese says. "You know, so many peo­ple ad­mire Mrs Obama and they want to dress like her. We sold quite a few of those dresses." She es­ti­mates the num­ber at over 2,000.

Reese, who hails from Detroit, is one of the first lady's fa­vored de­sign­ers - Mrs Obama has been pho­tographed in her clothes some 20 to 30 times. But un­like some past first ladies who fa­vored one or two big-name de­sign­ers, Mrs. Obama has spread her fash­ion choices among a huge sta­ble of them - of­ten pro­mot­ing lesser-known names, and tak­ing care to pro­mote Amer­i­can de­sign­ers at such high-pro­file events as in­au­gu­ra­tions, con­ven­tions and state din­ners.

Which is why so many de­sign­ers and fash­ion watch­ers will miss her when she steps away from her post af­ter eight fash­ion­con­scious years, and why they con­sider her one of the most in­flu­en­tial first ladies in fash­ion, per­haps even more so than Jacqueline Kennedy, be­cause of her broad ap­peal. "Michelle Obama em­braced ev­ery­one," says An­dre Leon Tal­ley, a fash­ion edi­tor at Vogue mag­a­zine. "She em­braced black de­sign­ers, Asian de­sign­ers, Euro­pean de­sign­ers . ... She was very demo­cratic in her choice of clothes."

Af­ford­able fash­ion

And that in­cludes wear­ing fash­ion that or­di­nary women could po­ten­tially af­ford - like cardi­gans from the re­tailer J Crew. "She's made an ef­fort to wear ac­ces­si­ble fash­ion," Reese says. "I think Jackie (Kennedy) was a great role model but she wore a lot of cou­ture, and things that most Amer­i­cans could not af­ford." Mrs Obama, she says, has worn both high-end and mod­er­ately priced fash­ion.

Reese, who is African-Amer­i­can, is par­tic­u­larly proud that one of her de­signs - a black dress printed with bright red flow­ers - is on dis­play at the Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture. The first lady wore it to com­mem­o­rate the 50th an­niver­sary of the March on Wash­ing­ton.

Mrs Obama set the stage for her broad-based fash­ion choices with her first in­au­gu­ra­tion. Pre­vi­ous first ladies had of­ten gone with estab­lished lux­ury de­sign­ers like Os­car de la Renta. Mrs. Obama wore a two-piece lemon­grass-hued en­sem­ble by Cuban-Amer­i­can de­signer Is­abel Toledo for day, and a oneshoul­dered white gown by New York-based, Tai­wanese-Canadian de­signer Ja­son Wu at night.

For her hus­band's sec­ond in­au­gu­ra­tion, she wore a sleek coat and dress by Amer­i­can de­signer Thom Browne, known for his eclec­tic tal­ents, and in the evening Ja­son Wu again. "It was an honor to have the op­por­tu­nity to dress Mrs Obama," Browne said in an email mes­sage. "She is such a stylish in­di­vid­ual be­cause of her con­fi­dence and in­tel­li­gence."

For Browne, Toledo, Reese and oth­ers, it was never clear un­til the mo­ment Mrs Obama ac­tu­ally ap­peared whether she would be wear­ing their de­signs. "We would get calls pe­ri­od­i­cally from her team," says Reese. "But we never knew ex­actly what things were for and when she would be wear­ing them. And I think that that's just nec­es­sary, be­cause you don't know when plans will change."

How­ever it un­folded, it cer­tainly could change a de­signer's ca­reer. "We've been brought to the at­ten­tion of mil­lions more peo­ple than we ever would have reached," Reese says.

David Yer­mack, a pro­fes­sor of cor­po­rate fi­nance at New York Univer­sity, stud­ied the fi­nan­cial im­pact of Mrs. Obama's fash­ion choices in her first year as first lady. He says he found an im­me­di­ate spike in stock prices of com­pa­nies whose ap­parel she wore (he only ex­am­ined pub­licly traded com­pa­nies). "There was a very strong and im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion in the stock prices of the de­sign firms and also the retailers," Yer­mack says. For ma­jor ap­pear­ances, this could run into the tens of mil­lions of dol­lars: "That's hap­pened many times with her."

And the public, Yer­mack says, re­mem­bers what Mrs Obama wears. "Do you re­mem­ber what Pat Nixon or Laura Bush wore? She has the abil­ity to hold the in­ter­est of the con­sumer in a way that al­most no one else does. I've looked far and wide - Kate Mid­dle­ton, Carla Bruni. No­body be­gins to ap­proach Mrs. Obama on this."

Yer­mack thinks what's dif­fer­ent about Mrs Obama is that first ladies "have tra­di­tion­ally tried to be non­de­script in the way they dressed - they didn't want to over­shadow their spouses ... or be seen as spend­ing a lot on cloth­ing. But she had no in­hi­bi­tions in that sense.

"She re­ally had an im­pact on how pro­fes­sional women dressed, and how you could have fun with fash­ion, in a way that you couldn't imag­ine Ros­alynn Carter or Bar­bara Bush ever do­ing," he says. "It's a very short list of first ladies who are go­ing to leave that kind of legacy."— AP

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wear­ing Ate­lier Ver­sace at the fi­nal state din­ner at the White House in Wash­ing­ton in honor of Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi.

In this June 3, 2008 file photo, Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill. ar­rives for a elec­tion night rally with Michelle Obama in St Paul, Min­nesota.

In this Aug. 28, 2016 file photo, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, right, holds hands with first lady Michelle Obama, wear­ing a black dress printed with bright red flow­ers by de­signer Tracy Reese, as for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and for­mer Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter, left, ar­rive at the Let Freedom Ring cer­e­mony at the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial in Wash­ing­ton, to com­mem­o­rate the 50th an­niver­sary of the 1963 March on Wash­ing­ton for Jobs and Freedom.

In this July 25, 2016, file photo, first lady Michelle Obama blows kisses af­ter speak­ing to del­e­gates dur­ing the first day of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia.

This Jan 20, 2009, file photo shows Pres­i­dent Barack Obama with first lady Michelle Obama wear­ing a two-piece lemon­grass-hued en­sem­ble by CubanAmer­i­can de­signer Is­abel Tole­doon on their way to the White House in Wash­ing­ton.

In this Sept 4, 2012 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama, dressed in a Tracy Reese pink silk jacquard dress, walks on the stage at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Char­lotte, North Carolina.

— AP/ AFP pho­tos

This Jan. 20, 2009 file photo shows Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, left, and first lady Michelle Obama, in a one-shoul­dered white gown by de­signer Ja­son Wu, at the Neigh­bor­hood In­au­gu­ral Ball in Wash­ing­ton.

In this Aug 25, 2008 file photo, Michelle Obama, wife of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Sen. Barack Obama, DIll., and daugh­ters Malia, left, 10, and Sasha, right, 7, wave to the au­di­ence at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Den­ver.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.