By the time Michelle Obama accompanied her husband to the inaugural balls in January 2009, in her snow-white Jason Wu gown bedecked with tiny flowers, she was already established as a woman who wanted to use fashion to make an impact. That reality first appeared on the campaign trail, when Obama mixed up shifts by Thakoon with mass-market labels like White House|Black Market. Her decision to go with a relatively unknown yet industry-approved designer for the ball was a harbinger of things to come, as more Thakoon numbers, full-skirted dresses by Tracy Feith and chic coats by Narciso Rodriguez and Maria Cornejo would follow. (The industry acknowledged Obama’s impact on new designers in particular with a Special Tribute Award at the 2009 CFDA Awards.) Though she occasionally took flak for veering into undemocratic territory pricewise (see the Lanvin sneakers she wore to a D.C. food drive), as well as for steering clear of the old-guard Americans (no Oscar, no Carolina), Obama proved herself an equal-opportunity dresser. She donned J. Crew to meet with then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s wife in London; she slipped into Talbot’s and H&M for White House social events. Obama’s conduit to the Garment District and all those new names—the likes of Prabal Gurung and Sophie Theallet were worked into her wardrobe as the presidency wore on—was Ikram Goldman, whose Chicago store Obama frequented before the election.
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