Michelle Obama evening dress sparks race row over 'nude' description
From the moment she stepped into the limelight, Michelle Obama was feted as the 'First Lady of Fashion'.
She was hailed as the successor to Jackie Kennedy, with the style press rhapsodising over her ability to carry off High Street buys and glittering designer gowns with equal panache.
One dress, however, has sent ripples through the fashion world for rather different reasons. Mrs Obama's choice of gown for a State dinner has sparked a debate about race and the delicate matter of whether one can call a dress colour 'nude' when it really depends on the wearer.
The dress in question, which Mrs Obama wore to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House, was described by the designer as a "sterling-silver sequin, abstract floral, nude strapless gown".
That simple description has now caused a stir. "We talk of nude now and there is no one colour. It's politically incorrect," said Gale Epstein, founder of the US lingerie brand Hanky Panky. "There is a wide range for skin tone colours. Human skins tones are a whole colour palette unto themselves." Miss Epstein prefers to use a range of names, from "light chai" to "espresso", to describe her wares.
The Associated Press news agency was compelled to revise its reference to the dress colour from "flesh" to "champagne" after one fashion editor objected, asking: "Whose flesh? Not hers."
Pamella Roland, the eveningwear designer, also weighed into the debate, saying: "Nudes are a group of elegant shades, but there are a lot of specific shades. I can't describe a single specific colour for nude."
The row must be baffling for the designer in question - Naeem Khan, who was born and raised in Mumbai and now works in the US. He declined to comment yesterday but previously spoke of his delight at being chosen to make the dress for Mrs Obama.
"The idea was India - chic, simple, but still very glamorous," he said at the time. "I chose the colour, I chose the embroidery, the cut of the dress, everything. All I had to do was fit it to her.
"I was so joyous - for me to be part of this historic occasion, being Indian, was beyond amazing. It was an incredible moment for me." It took a team of 40 workers three weeks to hand-make the dress in India.
While the debate is conducted in the US over whether the term "nude" should be consigned to fashion history, Indian designers are wondering what all the fuss is about.
Vijay Arora said: "'Nude' covers an array of shades like whites, pinks, yellows, beiges, ivories and browns, so why get bogged down by terminology?"
Another prominent designer, Anjana Bhargav, said there was "nothing politically incorrect" about the term. "Every word can be used differently and, in fashion, it's the colour of your skin."
Mrs Obama has been keen to showcase an international array of designers, wearing an outfit by Cuban-American Isabel Toledo for her husband's inauguration ceremony and a dress by the Taiwanese-born Jason Wu on the cover of Vogue.
Until now, the biggest controversy over Mrs Obama's appearance was her decision to appear sleeveless in her first official portrait as First Lady, which some critics claiming the bare arms look was too informal for the occasion.