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Taking the safe bet that the President would wear a navy suit, which he did, the designer selected a color that would enhance the Commander in Chief’s look. Browne opted for a silk tie jacquard material that was initially developed for his men’s collection. But he also wanted to play up the First Lady’s signature strength, which he’d seen up close last summer after meeting her at a White House luncheon she hosted for National Design Award honorees. Clear-sighted as he was about how the outfit’s color and fabric’s structure would convey the strength, style and confidence the First Lady embodies, seeing his vision through was no small feat. “It is such another level [trying] to get something perfect so that she feels really great, comfortable, confident and fashionable,” he said. “She is such an amazingly strong woman who looks good in everything she wears.”
Reed Krakoff was an unprecedented “three-peat” winner, having designed the ultramarine abstract wash print sheath dress and cashmere sweater Obama wore to her husband’s official swearing-in ceremony Sunday morning in the Blue Room. Krakoff also designed the customized blue suede boots she sported outside the Capitol Monday for the ceremonial swearing-in. And she broke out the cashmere cardigan for the second time in 24 hours, wearing it to the Capitol luncheon Monday afternoon. Having launched his signature collection less than three years ago, Krakoff, who is also president and executive creative director of Coach Inc., sounded all-American, making a point of saying more than once that the First Lady’s outfit was made in his West 34th Street atelier in New York. None of the seamstresses knew who it was being made for. “More than anything, what this gives us is a sense of purpose that what we’re doing is on the right track,” he said. “It will long outlive the moment but at the same time we are incredibly honored.”
Krakoff said the color of the historic interior of the first event was “a happy coincidence” and the design concept was driven more by the First Lady’s sense of style than the room. He, too, focused on the fact that she is a “strong, confident, modern woman. She knows what she likes and what works for her and that’s what makes a style icon,” he said. “She very much embraces fashion but in a way that works for her.”
So much so that she took the liberty of changing out of her J. Crew Valentina heels after Monday’s prayer service and adding a J. Crew black beaded belt to her Thom Browne coat in time for the descent down the Capitol steps. Her 14-year-old daughter Malia was also J. Crew’ed out from head to toe and no one was more excited about that than the retailer’s chief, Millard “Mickey” Drexler. “There have been lots of exclamation points and e-mails all in big giant block letters,” said creative director Jenna Lyons.
While more than 15 designers had to sweat out the wait to see whether the First Lady would choose their customized pieces, J. Crew maintained its position as a First Family favorite by simply being there: The Obamas didn’t phone in any favors or special requests. “As far as we know, they literally ordered online and they shop like anyone else in America,” Lyons said.
As for the DIY belt, Lyons said, “I love that she dresses in a way that says, ‘This is the way I want to be.’ I think it looks great — I hope Thom is all right with it.”
The entire weekend was a parade of American designs and other fashion rarely seen outside of New York Fashion Week and seldom seen in Washington. Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, wore a cerulean blue silk column gown by Vera Wang to Monday night’s two official inaugural balls. Beyoncé wore an Emilio Pucci black velvet and chiffon beaded cutout long-sleeve gown to sing the National Anthem outside the Capitol Monday. Jill Biden also went with a gray silk coat and three-dimensional organza embroidered dress by Lela Rose. The Obamas’ 11-year-old daughter Sasha sported a Kate Spade coat, providing one of the few shots of color in a crowd wearing mostly safe shades like black and blue. The President’s brother-in-law Craig Robinson was another standout in a fluorescent orange and black striped scarf and matching tie — not exactly an Aretha Franklin-worthy hat moment circa 2009 but singular just the same.