Michelle Obama becomes instant fashion icon

January 22nd, 2009 - 1:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Los Angeles/Washington, Jan 22 (DPA) She’s been called a one-woman design stimulus, the leader of the fashion world and a practitioner of change you can wear.But whatever silly title you bestow upon the new First Lady Michelle Obama, 45, there’s no doubt that in the first hours of her husband’s presidency, she injected a sense of style and modernity that has long been missing from the White House.

In the process, she generated the first front-page headlines for fashion in a long time, with everyone from The New York Times to the Wall Street Journal deeming her choices worthy of careful analysis and explanation.

No disrespect intended to Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton or Barbara Bush, but Obama’s recent predecessors on the arm of power were defined by tastes in fashion that were more frumpy than fresh. Now, the younger first lady mood is young, vibrant, democratic and supportive of a distinctly American sense of style.

So it was out with fancy gowns and accessories from foreign fashion icons like Oscar De La Renta, Christian Dior and Yves St Laurent. Even old school US designers like Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein didn’t get a look in at the first lady’s wardrobe.

Instead the clothiers of the historic day - as the Obamas became the first African-Americans to move into the White House - were the previously little known designers Isabel Toleda and Jason Wu.

Most people watching had never heard of either of them, but quickly learnt that Toledo is a Cuban-American who has been designing under her own name for 20 years in New York, selling her creations at the exclusive department store Barney’s and briefly serving as the creative director for Anne Klein.

Wu is even more obscure. The Taiwanese-born designer only graduated from fashion school three years ago and was recommended to Obama by the owner of one of her favourite Chicago boutiques.

In an interview Wednesday, Wu explained how he was asked to make a gown for Obama but had no idea she had picked out his creation for the historic occasion. In fact he was sitting on his couch eating pizza when he saw his dress had been chosen.

“I was shocked, excited and happy,” he told broadcaster MSNBC. “To be part of history is my dream come true.”

We explained how he wanted to break with a fashion tradition in which first ladies were more demure and covered-up. “For me, the dress represents a new generation - it’s feminine and powerful at the same time.”

Some of those who engaged in the web fashion chatter questioned the propriety of a first lady showing her arms for all to see. But professional fashion critics could hardly contain their enthusiasm for Wu’s white gown or the lemongrass ensemble by Toledo that Obama wore earlier for her husband’s oath of office on the Capitol steps and the inaugural parade to the White House.

“It’s a fresh new generation for a new brand of American fashion,” wrote Booth Moore, fashion critic of the Los Angeles Times. “Just as Barack Obama turned the page on American history in Washington on Tuesday, Michelle Obama turned the page on American fashion and reaffirmed her commitment to being a new kind of style leader.”

Wall Street Journal fashion editor Shelly Branch wrote: “I thought her choices showed that we definitely have a new fashion administration in place. She’s reaching across the fashion divide and latching on the lesser-known designers, designers who are cutting edge.”

Even the Obama children became overnight trendsetters with their blue-and-red, double-breasted overcoats. Reflecting their mother’s penchant for mixing elite design and high-street fashions, their coats were from retailer J. Crew. That company’s website crashed as buyers rushed to snap up the same outerwear.

But the coats were unavailable anyway. J. Crew said they had been specially sown for the girls and would only be available at retail in the company’s autumn 2009 line.

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