Michelle Obama sends stocks, sweet potatoes soaring - in style (Profile)

November 4th, 2010 - 4:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Paloma Ganguly
New Delhi, Nov 4 (IANS) Michelle Obama has given Americans a face to love, glorify, follow and one that seldom fails since stepping into the shoes of the US First Lady nearly two years ago.

A style icon whose clothes are resuscitating American fashion, a woman who is first and foremost a mother, a wife who is never shy of being publicly intimate with her husband even if he is the president of the United States. She is, as they love to call her, “Mrs. O”.

The first African American in her position, she has, gesture by gesture, dress by dress, widened her appeal — even as husband President Barack Obama’s popularity ratings fall — winning over critics, some of whom had called her “angry black woman” at one time.

On the incredibly fit shoulders of this 46-year-old has fallen the mantle of “change” - a word her husband used powerfully to become the 44th president of the US.

Michelle has famously said, “Barack didn’t pledge riches, only a life that would be interesting. On that promise he’s delivered”. And few will contest, she has too.

Known to excel in studies, with a Harvard Law School degree under her belt, she has settled for a new cause - the health of American kids. At the White House kitchen garden, she has been growing sweet potatoes, herbs and pumpkins. And, she sure has been catapulted to the world’s best-dressed and most powerful women lists.

“Michelle Obama truly is the First Lady of Fashion,” wrote fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar.

In glamour and style, she is second to none, not even the dazzling Carla Bruni of France. Fashionistas and commoners alike say Michelle has filled a vacuum left behind by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Many point out she has been opting for decidedly American brands - be it J. Crew readymades, the accessible luxury label Banana Republic or designer dreams from Isabel Toledo, Thakoon Panichgul and Narciso Rodriguez. She is said to be single-handedly sending the stock prices of designers and retailers soaring.

“I think Michelle Obama has shown with her style that she is well aware people expect her to look good and set trends but equally aware that the economy is bad and that she and her family don’t want to seem above everyone else,” Kristy Eckert, editor of Capital Style magazine, has been quoted as saying.

As she comes to India with her husband Nov 6, will Michelle give the country’s traditional sari a try? Given that she experiments - even accessorising with extra wide belts and bangles unlike her predecessors - it would be little surprise if she did.

“I feel she will look good in a chiffon sari with a banarasi border and red will go very well with her skin tone,” feels renowned Indian designer Ritu Kumar.

Michelle’s fashion sense typically marries the stylish with the practical, say experts.

Not many can remember the last time they saw a US first lady up on a ladder, clad in a tee and three-quarter pants, giving a fresh coat of paint to a building. But Michelle’s gesture at a home for veterans on the 9/11 anniversary was one such occasion when she chose to be the common American.

Her job can’t be easy. At one point, the media went to town quoting her from a book, describing life as the US First Lady as, “Don’t ask! It’s hell. I can’t stand it!”, only to trigger prompt denials from her office.

Born Jan 17, 1964, Michelle grew up in a working class black neighbourhood in Chicago, the daughter of a pump operator father and a bank secretary mother. Her deep awareness of community issues was perhaps manifest in her delving into sociology and African American studies at Princeton University.

What is really part of popular legend now - and relived every day - is her unmistakable chemistry with Barack.

They met when she was asked by her law firm to mentor a Harvard summer associate, older to her by three years. It is said she was drawn to Barack’s ability to connect to people and his love for Stevie Wonder songs.

Their 18-year-old marriage seems near perfect, weathering beautifully the constant public scrutiny and complete with two daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9. In fact, the role of mother is what Michelle prizes “first and foremost”, says the White House website.

Many months after the president’s inauguration ball in January 2009, her shimmering white off-shoulder gown with floral details is a picture frozen in time - and at the Smithsonian Museum. She is making a bit of history every day.

As the Stevie Wonder song - and some say a Barack and Michelle favourite - goes, “You and I, we can conquer the world.”

(Paloma Ganguly can be contacted at paloma.ganguly@ians.in)

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