Fashion in the White House
I am fashion-ignorant and fashion-insensitive (to put it mildly), but I found this Washington Post article by Robin Givhan very helpful in understanding some of what was evident to the fashion-knowledgeable:
At the Hay-Adams this fall, members of Washington’s diplomatic community gathered inside the historic hotel’s glass-walled loft, with its postcard views of the White House, for a conversation about fashion. About clothes and their place on the world stage. The program, hosted by the State Department and Elle magazine, included a panel discussion, in which I was invited to participate, that featured designer Derek Lam. When the conversation came around to first lady Michelle Obama — because how could it not? — Lam dropped his head in a mournful manner and lamented: Her departure from the East Wing signaled the end of a singular era for American fashion.
During her tenure, Obama brought widespread attention to Seventh Avenue. She energized designers, editors and stylists with her fashion-forward wardrobe choices. She made industry insiders stand taller both at home and abroad. She’s been an exemplar of modern, fit and confident middle age. She instilled pride and kinship among countless black women.
And she has been the most high-profile cheerleader for the sleeveless sheath as the 21st-century power uniform. “It’s been accepted everywhere,” says designer Maria Pinto, who created many of Obama’s 2008 campaign dresses, including the purple sheath she wore when she fist-bumped the presumptive Democratic nominee. “You don’t have to be in a suit. There’s other ways to get that power look.”
Lam is among the many Seventh Avenue designers whose clothes have been part of the first lady’s public wardrobe and whose life story has been fundamental to her version of fashion diplomacy. Obama wore Lam’s block-printed dress for her arrival in Beijing in March 2014. The black dress, with a geometric pattern in ivory and taupe, was contemporary in its design, sophisticated and sleek. But there was more: Lam, who grew up in San Francisco, is of Chinese descent. In wearing his design, Obama quietly noted that in addition to trade agreements and intellectual property concerns, there is a very real, human connection between the United States and China.
For the Obamas’ first state dinner, in honor of India, she wore a white strapless gown by the Indian American designer Naeem Khan. In 2011, she donned an array of British brands — Preen, Roksanda — for a visit to London. But for the grand occasion of a state dinner at Buckingham Palace, Obama wore a regal white gown and long white gloves by an American designer, Tom Ford — but one with deep business roots in London, where he also maintains a home.
She wore a flowing violet gown by Japan-born designer Tadashi Shoji, whose business is based in Los Angeles, to a state dinner in honor of Japan, a dress by Korean American designer Doo-Ri Chung for the South Korea state dinner and a student-designed frock to a White House education workshop on careers in the fashion industry. Her fashion choices served as a grace note to the moment.
Her clothes were unexpected: a cardigan to meet Queen Elizabeth II. They spoke of Hollywood glamour: a Vera Wang mermaid gown at the China state dinner. They evoked Everywoman: hiking shorts at the Grand Canyon. The pictures are captivating. But are they the totality of her fashion legacy? . . .
Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.