Michelle Obama is a grown woman. She can dress herself.
Like many American women, I am happy to have a young, stylish First Lady in the White House. Since Jackie Kennedy set the bar so high in the '60s, it's been kind of slim pickings since then: Nancy Regan provided a bit of glamour, but in a somewhat vulgar, Beverly Hills '80s way. And I love Hilary Clinton, but she can't dress her way out of a paper bag (which is okay--she has myriad other talents). So, here we have Michelle Obama, who is 45, attractive, and in good shape. Also, she can dress. MObama (as The Cut affectionately calls her) has drawn praise from the fashion industry by championing young and/or independent designers such as Jason Wu, Thakoon Panichgul, Maria Cornejo, and Isabel Toledo (that would be To-LAY-do, not like the city in Ohio, ahem, news anchors). The fashion industry has been breathlessly praising her for this, and the CFDA is even honoring her with a special award at their ceremony in June. Of course, the honeymoon can't last forever.

Starting with last week's G-20 summit in London and continuing through this week's tour through Europe, MObama has been in countless photo ops, putting her--and her wardrobe--on a global stage. It's been wonderful publicity for the designers she's chosen to wear, this being key because most of them (with the exception of Michael Kors) have businesses so fledgling, they can't even afford to advertise. But designers can smell free publicity like sharks smell blood, so of course they all want in on the action. First, there was this article in last Thursday's WWD [subscription required], which basically ponders why MObama has yet to wear any of the big American designers (again, with the exception of Kors). While most of the designers interviewed for the article were very gracious--Carolina Herrera and Tommy Hilfiger praised MObama's fashion choices while Donna Karan and Vera Wang expressed their desire to work with the First Lady--Oscar de la Renta, a Bush family favorite, took the low road.

“American fashion right now is struggling,” says Oscar de la Renta. “I think I understand what [Obama and her advisers] are doing, but I don’t think that is the right message at this particular point….I don’t object to the fact that Mrs. Obama is wearing J. Crew to whatever because the diversity of America is what makes this country great. But there are a lot of great designers out there. I think it’s wrong to go in one direction only.”

In other words, why should MObama wear $200 J. Crew cashmere sweaters when she can wear $2,000 Oscar de la Renta sweaters? But wait, there's more! While MObama has been routinely praised in the press for her European wardrobe--which included Alaia (the gorgeous dress she's wearing in the photo here), Etro, and Moschino--there was one designer who did not agree with her choices. Can you guess whom that might be?

"Our industry right now is having a very difficult time," Oscar de la Renta told WWD after his bridal show on Monday. "I think it would be great if the First Lady dressed in American styles. There are a lot of talented people here too."

Like, oh, I don't know...Oscar de la Renta? If I were him, I wouldn't be waiting by the phone, especially after this zinger:

For his part, de la Renta notes that, in recent history, first ladies have always had direct contact with a designer, typically relying on one or two. He suggests that, designer or otherwise, Obama would benefit from expanding her current range of fashion advisers, particularly on matters of protocol. “You don’t,” he declares definitively, “go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater.”

Oh, snap.

First of all, I think it was smart of MObama to wear European designers in Europe--it was good for international relations, an area at which de la Renta's much-loved Bush administration didn't exactly excel (especially where France was concerned. Freedom fries, anyone?). Secondly, it is not the First Lady's responsibility to boost the fashion industry and make American women go shopping. Did anyone give a crap about what Laura Bush or Hilary Clinton wore? No, except to occasionally make fun of it. Nor is it MObama's obligation to wear a designer favored by past First Ladies--in fact, that's probably reason enough to make her stay away. Mr. de la Renta, if you want publicity--good publicity, not the snarky, huffy comments you've been giving WWD lately--perhaps you should consider amping up your advertising in fashion magazines. That's one industry that certainly needs the help.


Anonymous said...

He's completely right, though. She shouldn't have worn a sweater, regardless of how beautiful it is, over a shapeless top, over a dress. It completely ruined her silhouette and made the outfit look busy and dowdy. Obama seems to refrain from getting clothing tailored to fit her body, and also doesn't know which garments belong on her body at which times. Structured garments are what she needs. Shapeless sweaters? Not so much. She manages to make her gorgeous frame look dowdy a lot of the time. I say she needs a tailor or a stylist, who can point these things out to her.

And there is nothing wrong with the idea of branching out to support other American designers. Oscar de la Renta doesn't need the publicity, and his business has not suffered too much in this economy. People with money are still buying from him, as they always have. His comment was made, clearly, out of concern for the American fashion community. Without the money and publicity to support dynamic new labels and designers, there is no future for fashion in this country. Michelle Obama calling attention to these fledgling designers would surely help their cause.

Cheryl said...

Anonymous, you're entitled to your opinion about the sweater and the fit of Obama's clothes. Personally, I think she looks great.

As for de la Renta, trust me, his business is hurting. WWD mentioned last week that he's one of many designers lowering his price points to accommodate the retailers. Also, his bridge line, O Oscar, was dropped by Macy's (the exclusive vendor), so he no longer has that lucrative licensing money pouring in. His snarky comments appear, to me at least, as a simple case of sour grapes.

As for your comment: His comment was made, clearly, out of concern for the American fashion community. Without the money and publicity to support dynamic new labels and designers, there is no future for fashion in this country. Michelle Obama calling attention to these fledgling designers would surely help their cause.

Isn't that exactly what Michelle Obama is doing by wearing independent, young designers such as Jason Wu and Thakoon? And even Narcisco Rodriguez, whose business is struggling greatly? Obama has drawn an enormous amount of attention to these designers; Wu's fashion show was one of the hottest tickets of Fashion Week, and I guarantee you 99% of American women had no idea who Isabel Toledo was before the Inauguration. In fact, it is her support of up-and-coming designers that has earned her the CFDA Board of Directors Special Tribute award, which she will receive in June.