“Not just for fashion, but for the U.S. right now, it’s sort of an instantaneous connector,” said J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons Mazeau. “Most people in this country can afford to wear something by J. Crew, or probably they know what J. Crew is, and that is pretty amazing when you think that the First Lady can wear anything she wants….She actually picks something people know.
“I think that to me is a true testament to the kind of person she and her husband are. They are people of the people.”
That was a comment echoed by others. Toledo is far from a household name, yet Lyons Mazeau praised the choice because it shows Michelle Obama “doesn’t need validation from anyone. She really is the validator.”
Toledo said her day of reckoning “almost didn’t happen” due to the tight turnaround time. After her proposed design was green-lighted following her submission of several possible ideas for the big day, she called her fabric contractor on a Saturday to see if he could even get the wool lace. The factory in Switzerland agreed, but then the expediency of shipping became another factor. Once that hurdle was passed, Toledo’s 10-person team rolled up their sleeves, toiling through the holidays and logging overtime without question — even though it wasn’t certain the First Lady would even wear it. They knew only on Tuesday, just like the rest of the world.
“It really was an international effort. The fabric was from Switzerland and we are all immigrants,” she said with a laugh.
After briefly meeting Michelle Obama at a fashion industry event last summer, Toledo felt compelled to dress her. “The few seconds I met her I felt so inspired,” Toledo said.
The designer said she has been working closely with Ikram in Chicago, the retailer that appears to be the gatekeeper of the new First Lady’s fashion choices, and Obama had purchased her clothes in the past. But as much as the designer hoped to be among the chosen on Tuesday, she wasn’t banking on anything for certain.
“I’ve been working for this moment. One of the reasons I am still around is because of knowing that things can happen. And also knowing that if she had had a change of heart, other things would happen,” Toledo said. “I am just happy that she loves the work and loved it enough for me to be part if this.”