Michelle Obama

I know this is heresy of a sort, but sitting in the opening shows of New York Fashion Week, a thought keeps niggling away at the back of my mind: maybe being marketed by Mrs O (because, let’s face it, when she wears your dress it’s free global marketing on an unprecedented scale), is NOT helpful. Maybe, in fact, it creates expectations some designers are simply not ready to bear. Before you rant and rave, hear me out. 

The great and witty Simon Doonan has a new book out next week – “The Asylum”, about the fashion world, natch – and in the process of promoting it has gotten up on the hustings to mount a campaign against writing about politician’s clothes, most recently in an interview with The New Republic. You can read it yourself, but here’s the thing: in taking this stand, Mr Doonan is missing a crucial point. 

President Obama has just nominated Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg as the ambassador to Japan. Assuming the Senate confirms her, you know what this means: the crowning of a new style icon. It’s not quite as big a deal as a royal baby, but it’s going to take Prince George awhile to grow into his Look and start influencing clothing sales, while Mrs Kennedy-Schlossberg will have to unveil her own pretty soon. Let the who-will-dress-her wars begin!

 

I did an interview in tomorrow’s paper – it will be up soon on-line – with Christiane Amanpour, the ABC anchor, CNN correspondent, war reporter, mother, and all-around very impressive woman, that I really hope everyone will read (and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever written those words in a blog). Not because I wrote the piece, but because for the first time I can remember, a really powerful woman has been secure enough in her own intelligence and position; secure enough in the level of respect she commands; to be absolutely comfortable talking, at length, about clothes.

Specifically her clothes, and why she wears what she wears when, say, she is in the field, or in the studio, or interviewing various Presidents, or going to the White House Correspondents’ dinner. It’s a breakthrough, and I don’t say that lightly. 

So Reed Krakoff, executive creative director and president of Coach, the man who – along with CEO Lew Frankfort – built it into the $4.76 billion brand, is leaving after almost 16 years. Or will be leaving soon: officially, he steps down in June of 2014 when his current contract is up, which also happens to be just after Mr Frankfort retires as CEO (last September he announced he was leaving at the end of this year). Those are the facts; so what do they all mean?

 

American Vogue may have Michelle Obama as their cover coup, but L’Uomo Vogue, Italian Vogue’s men’s fashion arm, has, on their April issue…Mayor Michael Bloomberg! I kid you not. It’s a little left-field as a choice, no? For both of them (the cover model and the magazine). So what’s the rationale here?

 

Right on cue, yesterday Michelle Obama resurrected a previously worn Prabal Gurung dress from her wardrobe to wear for Easter Sunday. It’s not only a holiday-appropriate move, and nicely economic, but underscores the trend she set during the campaign for shopping her own closet, 

If anyone wants to know the difference between Milan and New York fashion, the two cities that are most often seem as similar in their focus on the commercial as opposed to the insanely creative/conceptual, simply consider two recent pieces of news from over the pond: first, in her official term 2 Flotus portrait, Mrs O is wearing Reed Krakoff; second, the CFDA has hired Boston Consulting Group to help them determine their goals for the next five years. Fashion-as-business! It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

 

MIchelle Obama wears Jason Wu at the State of the Union Address. Getty Images

Shocking! Michelle Obama has worn the same designer at two major events in a row. At the inaugural ball she wore a Jason Wu gown as she did the first time round, which is shocking enough – the last first lady to wear the same designer to two inaugural balls was Nancy Reagan. Mrs O then wore Jason Wu again at the State of the Union last night.

The dress, with a black sleeveless top and sparkly bordeaux sequinned skirt, looks like a customised variation of a frock from Mr Wu’s pre-fall collection, which had a leather spaghetti strap top and the same body. That dress, of course, was shown last December, and will not be in stores until May/June, so Mrs O is getting it celebrity-early, an indication of just how unlike normal shopping her shopping is. I think sometimes we get carried away with the J Crew side of things, and forget that there’s a very not-like-everyone-else flip side to her wardrobe – good or bad, depending on your point of view. 

As show season kicked off I did an interview with Jason Wu – aka the man who made Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown… twice! – before his A/W show, and two things he said have stuck in my mind:

First, for him, the Flotus effect is felt more in publicity than an actual sales spike. In other words, since Mrs O wore his gowns, everyone now knows his name in a way they might not otherwise, but it hasn’t had much effect on the bottom line.

And second, he makes 90 per cent of his clothes not just in America, but in New York, right down the street from his atelier, not because of any political position (though it’s nice to get credit for that) but because his pieces require so much hand-work – he needs to be close by to supervise.