America’s first lady of fashion
CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau (The Philippine Star) - April 10, 2013 - 12:00am

Not since Jackie O has such a fuss been made over a first lady’s every fashion move and kitten-heeled step.

For the second time, US First Lady Michelle Obama is gracing the cover of American Vogue, and it’s a ringing endorsement of Mrs. Obama’s status as a fashion trendsetter and style icon who can make an up and coming designer’s name and fortunes simply by wearing his or her dress.

In Tom Ford at a White House state dinner

In Vogue’s April 2013 issue, the first lady wears a Reed Krakoff dress out of her own closet, one of the many times she has championed an American brand and designer. (Krakoff is the creative force behind Coach and is known to be one of Obama’s favorites.) But then again, the first lady is known for her habit of patronizing inexpensive American brands and designers, and her skill at mixing high and low is legendary. She’ll pair a J. Crew sweater with a skirt from Michael Kors, for example. Other affordable brands she’s worn include Talbots, Moschino Cheap and Chic, and Target. And this proletarian aesthetic is genuine, not put on. As a mother of two and the anonymous wife of President Barack Obama when he was still a state senator, Obama would really shop at Target.

Vogue says she’s inspired “a modern definition of effortless American chic,” and at 49 years old, she looks fabulous. Mrs. Obama obviously subscribes to the notion of playing up her best feature — in this case, her strong shoulders, toned arms and whittled waist, which are always displayed to full effect in her strapless or sleeveless dresses. Since she’s pear-shaped, she favors A-line silhouettes that emphasize her small waistline.

As first lady it’s almost a duty to make “conscious” fashion choices, and Obama never shies away from this duty… it’s a pleasure for her, in fact. Though their style is not the same, the only first lady who had such an affinity for fashion was Jackie O. Obama shares her flair and fearlessness. She’s not afraid to wear an outfit more than once — for instance, the handpainted Prabal Gurung dress she wore on no less than three occasions.

Mrs. Obama sets an example for American women by showing that fashion is, first and foremost, attainable, fun, and it’s okay to wear whatever makes you feel beautiful — your detractors be damned. The first lady’s fashion critics include iconoclastic British designer Vivienne Westwood, who decried the comparison with Jackie O, saying, “It’s dreadful what she wears. She’s a very nice-looking lady, but it’s a nonstarter regarding clothes that suit her. Jackie Kennedy was a different matter altogether. It just has to suit her and be something that makes a human being more glamorous.”

Power couple: President Barack Obama and wife Michelle in the White House Red Room, photographed by Annie Leibovitzfor Vogue — “Michelle’s like Beyoncé in that song,” the president says. “She upgraded me.”

With the state of the US economy being what it is, however, wouldn’t the average Joe and Jane hate a first lady who was dressed all glam, all the time? It would show that she was out of touch with middle- and working-class America, and who wants to be regarded as a modern-day Marie Antoinette?

When Mrs. Obama first appeared on the cover of the March 2009 Vogue, her designer of choice was Jason Wu, still one of her go-to designers, who also provided the red gown she wore to President Obama’s inaugural ball. (She chose Wu from among 15 designers who submitted sketches.)

When her every sartorial choice is freighted with such heavy expectation and controversy — which up-and-coming designer will she wear and thus push to the ranks of the American fashion elite? — her conviction and grace under pressure is admirable.

After America’s long tour of duty with Republican wives who looked like they got their outfits out of the same box — one labeled “the Real Stepford Wives of Washington, DC” — Michelle Obama is a fresh breeze sweeping through the White House. Hillary Clinton usually dressed in no-nonsense power suits, which mostly hid a figure unsuited to fashion. While Michelle is no reed-thin clothes hanger either, she is the perfect role model for her initiative of child nutrition and health, with the fit, athletic physique of a woman who eats healthy. She also has the height, poise and attitude to carry even the most haute-couture creations. Though the Obamas are both tall — the president is 6’1” and Michelle is 5’11” — the first lady invariably wears kitten heels or ballet flats so she won’t appear taller than he is, and, let’s face it, they’re just more comfortable for today’s modern first lady.

Mrs. Obama prefers rich jewel tones, electric hues and metallic colors that pop against her beautiful brown skin, like the chartreuse Rachel Roy she wore to the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony, the gold Naeem Khan gown at a White House state dinner, or the ice-blue Vera Wang and Barbara Tfank dresses she sported on two different occasions. Not afraid of prints, the gardening aficionado also has a fondness for florals, most famously seen in her Thakoon dress.

For her birthday last January, Obama also got a new hairdo, called “the First Fringe” by The Daily Mail. She cut her shoulder-length hair into a blunt bob with bangs, a ’70s style that showed “she is clearly in touch with trends.” The New York Times dubbed it “The Karlie,” after model Karlie Kloss, who chopped off seven inches of hair into a similar bob.

According to Vogue, the only change the down-to-earth Obamas have really experienced is the size of their wardrobes. As the President says, he used to have only two suits, but that has changed, of course. “Thank God,” Michelle says. “This is the man who still boasts about, ‘This khaki pair of pants I’ve had since I was 20.’ And I’m like, you don’t want to brag about that.”

“Michelle’s like Beyoncé in that song,” the President says. “’Let me upgrade ya!’ She upgraded me.”

Michelle counters with, “I always say that women should wear whatever makes them feel good about themselves. That’s what I always try to do … I also believe that if you’re comfortable in your clothes, it’s easy to connect with people and make them feel comfortable as well. In every interaction that I have with people, I always want to show them my most authentic self.”

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