Thursday 20 July 2017

How first lady's frocks started a fashion frenzy

The world has gone wild for Michelle's incredibly stylish outfits, says Caitriona Palmer

Michelle
Obama's gown for a
state dinner for
President Hu Jintao
of China was a red
silk organza dress,
with a streaky print
of black petals. The
full-skirted dress
was designed by
Sarah Burton of
Alexander
McQueen
Michelle Obama's gown for a state dinner for President Hu Jintao of China was a red silk organza dress, with a streaky print of black petals. The full-skirted dress was designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen

The world has gone wild for Michelle's incredibly stylish outfits, says Caitriona Palmer

As first Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama has worked tirelessly to end childhood obesity, lobbied for the needs of military families and highlighted the difficulties facing working parents.

But sometimes at the end of the day, all that the American public and media want to know is, what is she wearing?

In the past three years, this brainy lawyer and working mother of two, who grew up in one of poorest inner cities in the US, has become one of America's unlikeliest fashion icons, with an uncanny ability to elevate the stock prices of the fashion houses she anoints.

As first lady, she has upped the fashion stakes with statement-making outfits from cutting-edge fashion designers such as the late Alexander McQueen that accentuate her athletic curves, making her the woman who leading fashion houses want to dress.

"Whether it is her sexy over-the-knee Jimmy Choo boots, her informal hiking shorts upon de-planing from Air Force One, or all those sleeveless dresses, the choices are symbolic, but not political," said Robin Givhan, fashion editor of the 'Washington Post'. "Most important: they are not safe."

With a host of new websites devoted solely to tracking what the first lady wears, industry experts have noticed the dramatic knock-on effect of Mrs Obama's fashion choices.

In April 2009, she wore a $298 (€212) cream and sparkly J-Crew 'constellation cardigan' to 10 Downing Street and within an hour the product had sold out on the retailer's website. In 2008, after Mrs Obama wore a $148 (€105) patterned dress from the White House Black Market on the ABC TV show 'The View', the dress set off a shopping frenzy.

Noticing this trend, New York University finance professor David Yermack decided to track the stock prices of the clothing companies and fashion houses that dressed Mrs Obama and found that the first lady generated a massive $2.7bn (€1.9bn) in sales during a one-year. period.

"The $2.7bn is really not the whole story because many of these designer firms are private," Prof Yermack told the Irish Independent. "The true impact she has had on the industry is probably double or triple that."

Many women on a tight budget can copy her eclectic style. Those who wish to emulate the first lady take their cues from Mrs-O.org, a website run by Mary Tomer -- otherwise known to those within the fashion world as Mrs T -- who posts daily press pictures and rundowns of what the first lady is wearing.

While Mrs Obama has kept it safe with some well-known American designers, she has also branched out, championing up-and-coming designers such as Jason Wu, who designed the first lady's bridal-esque 2009 inaugural ball gown.

"I think another facet of the fascination is that Michelle Obama continues to wear new and lesser-known designers, introducing the American public to a diverse, broad ranging style aesthetic," Ms Tomer said. "It keeps things interesting."

There is no word yet on whether Mrs Obama will wear an outfit from an Irish fashion designer when she visits Ireland on May 23.

But they are keeping their fingers crossed that they too will benefit the way designer Naeem Khan did in 2009 when the first lady donned one of his gowns for the couple's first state dinner at the White House.

That night, the first lady wowed her critics with a stunning strapless champagne silk and silver sequinned creation that was designed by the previously little-known Indian designer and hand-stitched in his workshop in India.

The 'Michelle' effect for Mr Khan was instantaneous: "It's the gift that doesn't stop giving," he said. "My stuff is flying out of stores."

Irish Independent Supplement

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