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By nightfall, Tommy Hilfiger suited up “Glee” cast member Darren Criss in a midnight blue tuxedo from his spring tailored collection. Kors sent actress Kerry Washington to The Daily Beast’s bipartisan brunch Sunday in a “cashgora” shift with cap sleeves. Wang, who designed the wedding dress Biden’s daughter Ashley wore at her nuptials last summer, turned up at Monday night’s two official inaugural balls in a sleeveless black lace gown with a black and white floral peplum she designed for herself. Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman and her husband, Harvey Weinstein, also planned to party with the President. More than 4,000 well-wishers were expected at the Commander in Chief’s ball, the Obamas’ first stop of the night, and 35,000 more were lined up for the inaugural ball, both of which were being held at the 700,000-square-foot Washington Convention Center.
However many times the President has promised transparency in his administration, the First Lady and her inner circle held tight to her inaugural wardrobe choices as if they were the most heavily guarded state secret — just as they did four years ago in order to lessen the focus on and perhaps potential criticism of Michelle Obama as a fashion plate. As has believed to have been the case during the administration’s first term, designers who dress the First Lady for major appearances do not know of their good fortune until she is photographed or televised in their clothes.
After parting ways with Ikram Goldman, the Chicago boutique owner who had been her go-to stylist, the First Lady turned to Meredith Koop as her in-house stylist. The fact that Koop, a thirtysomething Vanderbilt grad and former sorority sister, ascended from Goldman’s onetime prodigy to a permanent White House confidante was not lost on the Beltway media, which reported an “All About Eve” situation underfoot. Goldman did not respond to requests for an interview and the First Lady’s press team said Koop would not be available to discuss her role.
“From the beginning of the administration, Ms. Koop has served Mrs. Obama as her personal aide, a well-established staff position through which First Ladies are supported in managing the [White House] residence and the needs of the First Family,” said a White House official. “Ms. Koop’s responsibilities include advising the first lady on her wardrobe and acting on her behalf in arranging for purchases,” a White House spokeswoman said via e-mail.
Asked to clarify how the First Lady’s clothing for formal occasions is paid for, and whether designers are paid wholesale or retail prices, Semonti Stephens, deputy communications director for the First Lady, said via e-mail Sunday, “I can’t go into the private details of Mrs. Obama’s life and that includes precise details for her clothing choices.”
A few designers who have dressed the First Lady in previous years said off-the-record that the pricing was up for negotiation and they were usually wholesale ones or even greater. One insider described them as “severely discounted.” Skittish as they were to discuss the details of dressing the First Lady, several designers indicated that the privilege and no doubt the publicity made their efforts worthwhile.
But while Michelle Obama has boosted the careers of many American designers by wearing their clothes, she hasn’t exactly embraced the New York fashion world with open arms. She has eagerly attended private fund-raising events hosted by the likes of Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker, drawing such designers as Tory Burch, Michael Kors and Narciso Rodriguez. And a battery of designers including Marc Jacobs, Derek Lam and Tracy Reese designed one-offs for the Runway to Win effort, which helped raise money for the President’s reelection campaign.
The First Lady has yet to attend New York Fashion Week or any other public fashion event, though, including the CFDA Awards. She accepted her special tribute award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America at the 2009 event via video. She also continues to draw criticism for failing to don clothes by the likes of Oscar de la Renta. CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg and de la Renta aired their disappointment publicly when the First Lady wore a red Alexander McQueen gown for the 2011 state dinner in honor of Chinese President Hu Jintao.
It remains to be seen whether the First Lady’s ties to the fashion industry will continue along for appearances only over the next four years. Regardless, she still has the Midas touch. After wearing Wu’s ethereal white one-shoulder gown at the inaugural balls four years ago, his company’s Web site received four million hits and his company skyrocketed. In his seventh year in business, the Taiwanese designer now sells his collection in 190 doors in 39 countries. This time around, by 10 p.m., Wu’s Web site crashed from all the new interest.