Mrs-O.com is a blog dedicated to chronicling the fashion and style of First Lady Michelle Obama. Founded September 2008. 


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A New "Shadow Stylist"?

When this blog began in 2008, the process of identifying Mrs. Obama's designers was much different than it is now. Now, there are press releases, media blasts and a slew of fashion savvy readers to fill in the gaps. Then, there was the more laborious task of scouring style.com, fueled by the key bit of information that Mrs. Obama shopped loyally at Maria Pinto and Ikram, both in Chicago. As Mrs. Obama turned less to Maria Pinto, Ikram's list of designers became a reliable short list for what Mrs. Obama might wear. The list includes designers like Thakoon, Narciso Rodriguez, Isabel Toledo and Jason Wu –names heard often in the last months of the presidential campaign and Mrs. Obama's first year in the White House.

The relationship between Mrs. Obama and Ikram Goldman has been largely shrouded in secrecy. We do know that it is almost certainly more involved than that of a typical boutique owner and patron. Ms. Goldman has been respectfully quiet on the matter, as has the White House, except to offer: "Mrs. Obama has shopped at Ikram’s store for years and appreciates her shared interest in working with a broad spectrum of designers, including many young and up-and-coming designers." 

That quote came from a splashy New York Times piece by Cathy Horyn and Eric Wilson, which did its best to “out” the relationship between Mrs. Obama and Ikram Goldman, and stir up something of a controversy surrounding the style partnership. "Behind the First Lady, a Shadow Stylist," was published in February 2009.

Where some saw tension, others saw a perfect union. Women who have shopped at Ikram will tell you that Ikram Goldman is a master at what she does. They speak of her discerning eye, her ability to mix the unexpected, to know her customers thoroughly. She is said to think of fashion from every angle, imbuing choices with intelligence and message.

Mrs. Obama's style in the White House has often put these characteristics on full display. For the inauguration, an Isabel Toledo ensemble in lemongrass yellow cued sunny optimism in the midst of a dark recession. When the First Lady met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in July 2009, head to toe Moschino was worn, an indication that fashion would be used to honor the culture and heritage of others. Then, in November 2009, Mrs. Obama welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur to the White House dressed in a handcrafted, sequin gown by Indian-American designer Naeem Khan. 

There was a pattern forming. Mrs. Obama’s choices were smart and communicative. The forethought and utmost attention to detail was undeniable. The styling read of Ikram Goldman, even if no formal credit was sought or given. Mrs. Obama's creative use of accessories even signaled the boutique owner’s hallmark touch. Eclectic Tom Binns necklaces were paired with corseted Peter Soronen gowns. Pins were worn, not in a traditional way, but clustered at the collar of dresses.

What follows is not meant to be a criticism, not in the very least, but rather, an observation. From watching the First Lady's style over the past year, it appears that something has changed – and that something, may be Ikram.

Mrs. Obama’s repertoire of designers has expanded drastically in recent months, to include new names such Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs, Roksanda Ilincic, and even vintage Norman Norell. A diverse wardrobe is growing more diverse, and fast. Ikram Goldman has been known to source clothing for the First Lady from designers not always carried in her boutique, but Chicago is a fashion market of "exclusives," and it's unlikely that Ms. Goldman would secure pieces from designers carried by her competitors. For example, Blake, another high-end store in Chicago, carries Dries Van Noten and Roksanda Ilincic. These designers are not stocked at Ikram. Which raises the question: if not Ikram, who secured pieces from these designers for the First Lady?

One answer might be Meredith Koop. In April 2010, Politico.com ran a short, unnoticed piece on Mrs. Obama's "secret style weapon." Koop is a 28-year-old White House aide rumored to play a "pivotal role" in the First Lady's style. At this point, little else is known about her position. But why the move away from Ikram? Logistics and location are one possibility. It may simply be more convenient to have someone Washington-based at the helm of Mrs. Obama’s complex wardrobe. Robin Givhan offered another possible hint with this November 2009 tweet: "Ikram in DC 'selling Michelle dresses she can't afford.' so sayeth a source."

This topic may feel irrelevant to some, but in the context of Mrs. Obama’s broader style influence, and her impact on our sartorial social history, it feels worth asking – who's influencing Mrs. O?

The First Lady’s Alexander McQueen gown for the state dinner, designed by McQueen's successor, Sarah Burton, was gorgeous. It offered the high-wattage glamour we've come to know and love in Mrs. Obama's wardrobe, balancing tradition with modernity, strength with femininity. While critics offered praise, one contrarian view came to light. Oscar de la Renta wondered aloud, why, on an occasion meant to foster Chinese-American trade, Mrs. Obama chose to wear "European clothes.”

Mr. de la Renta's track record of commentary aside, it's not an entirely unfair question – not because the choice was right or wrong, but because it broke with Mrs. Obama's precedent. "Unexpected" has been the ubiquitous word used to describe the choice. Perhaps it's merely that, another twist in the First Lady’s ever-evolving, public style – but might it signal something more? Is there new influence on Mrs. Obama's style? Are we seeing less of Ikram’s magic? This blogger would love to know.

Reader Comments (61)

I literally went up and down for about 3 minutes looking for the author and publication this orginally appeared in - well done Mrs. T. This is deeply insightful from a sartorial political view point. Also, it puts into perspective the frenzy that immediately follows Mrs.O debuting something new. I also have been curious but not actively inquisitive about who exactly is responsible for not just the fabulous frocks, but the delightful styling we've come to love. I remember how shocked I was when she wore Dries Van Noten, I had become so use to the Jason Wu sheath dresses or colourful Diane Von Furstenburg's....I thought it couldn't be. Since then the eclectic range of designers she's been imploring has truly been 'unexpected'. Marc Jacobs: FINALLY!

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterRory

"These designers are not stocked at Ikram. Which begs the question: if not Ikram, who secured pieces from these designers for the First Lady?"

Hmm, no, it doesn't.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 9:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterHyde Parker

Mrs. T I read your interesting piece and I too am wondering about Mrs. O ever expanding choice of designers. If as stated, the cost of her wardrobe lies with the First Lady, then financial
prudence may indeed be a factor for Mrs.O. spreading her wings from Ikram.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 9:33 AM | Unregistered Commentermarcelle

Rory, I've been curious about what's happening behind the scenes for a while, and also took the addition of these new names as a sign that influence may have shifted. Thanks for your kind words!

Hyde Parker, would love to hear further thought from you on this.

marcelle, agree completely...

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 9:59 AM | Registered CommenterMrs. T

Really good post, Mrs T.

I hadn't heard of the Givhan tweet until now, it is quite interesting given that I'm not sure which "she" she's referring to, but either way, I'm sure Ikram, as a success owner can afford the dresses, and I'm sure Michelle can as well, not necessarily because she's a millionaire but because it doesn't make sense that Ikram would bring dresses knowing it was out of range for her client's budget. That's the mark of a bad advisor.

Oscar de la Renta has taken issue with Michelle's clothes but I am happy to see that even though there's a sour grapes angle in his words, there still ring true or at least deserve some analyzing. We should note that she wore a wide range of designers while, say, on her first big trip broad and not all of them had designers that matched that country she was in, and we know Ikram was working for her then.

And Peter Soronen designed her Mexico state dinner dress, but I don't know if you'd count that during the potentially non-Ikram reign.

Ultimately I too wonder if Ikram is gone. I wouldn't necessarily say that just because Michelle has items sold at by Ikram's competitors that that means she's gone, I wonder if that just means that Michelle said 'Look, there's some issues with some people thinking that you are just selling me clothes that you carry at your store, which gets you higher profits, I need you to find clothes that you don't sell to make it all even"

Hmmm though, I don't know. I will enjoy reading everyone's comments about this matter though, in particular what people think about Givhan's tweet.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterMica

Mica, thanks for your thoughtful comments and questions. I don't believe Ikram is gone per se, but I do wonder if we're seeing less of her influence, and if that's the case, who's picking up the slack? I believe as recently as the trip to India and Indonesia that Mrs. Obama wore pieces bought through Ikram. Guilty Brotherhood (the red and black tunic dress) is sold at few other retailers in the US. But on that same trip, Mrs. Obama wore clothes by Ports 1961 and Dries Van Noten, which I do suspect came from somewhere else. It could be as you said, that Ikram has expanded her duties, but it sounds to me like a full-time job perhaps occupied by someone new.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Registered CommenterMrs. T

If it is the White House aide, I can only hope we taxpayers are not paying for Mrs. Obama's fashion stylist.

Very interesting post, Mrs. T

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 10:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterkaybeel

Another question, Mrs T:

I am starting to get the feeling that Michelle borrows all of her big dresses and jewels and that that's okay since she gives them back. Do you think that's the case as well?

I used to think that Michelle paid for all of her clothes and accessories (& of course she did say on the campaign trail that they pay for their own clothes) but it just didn't make good financial sense to pay for dresses like the Indian State Dinner dress or the McQueen dress, even if it is sold at a discount (which, as a quasi-government official ((quasi since she isn't paid but is obviously a representative of the government)) I would think be illegal since technically she'd be receiving a kickback (saved money) from her public role) since I doubt she'd wear such iconic things again to different events.

Now I am thinking "Hey, maybe she just borrows big time dresses and jewels but buys a lot of the staple stuff, like Wu dresses or Carole pins".

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterMica

I wonder if Michelle, like many in Hollywood borrows frocks on occasions where the item would simply not be easily rotated into her wardrobe. Also, pruning the wardrobe via selling by consignment or a special deal w/a store like Ikram seems like a good idea to keep things fresh and not break the clothes budget. Framing it as Givhan did in her tweet seems mean-spririted, seeing that it is done all the time by well-to-do society matrons.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterJennifer C

Thanks for that link to the Politico.com story. I love this quote regarding the Azzedine Alaia black-studded belt that she wore to the primary victory rally:

“Barack calls it my ‘Star Trek’ belt,” she told The New York Times."

It's great to hear these little anecdotes that reveal what a loving, fun couple they are.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterLael

Nothing underhanded should be suggested or could be attributed or to either the seller or the buyer if a store owner were to provide clothing to a client at cost and give up any profit to be made on that item. That is solely at the discretion of the seller. Sellers fudge those margins all the time. (Hence 70% off sales.)

Obviously, with a high-profile client, any "lost" profit would be made up many times over by other people's desire for the same item. Was anything "technically illegal" hinted at when Wu donated the inaugural dress? No, because his "payment" was display in the Smithsonian and all the rest that followed. In that instance the seller chose the value added of the distinction given to his design rather than a cash transaction.

FLOTUS is not receiving a "kickback" if she gets a gown for "free" or pays the asking price-- regardless of whether the seller has or has not reduced that price. Funny how people in high places can't win no matter what they do. Why shouldn't they get a discounted price as the rest of us do? Sure, they don't have to comb the racks for it, but why begrudge anyone the perks of office? Especially when those "perks" draw attention to hard-working designers worthy of note?

What is noteworthy about FLOTUS' record to date is that she has drawn the world attention to numerous designers rather than an elect few. (And we all know which one is whining about it.)

As for a stylist in the White House, that makes perfect sense. POTUS and the girls always riff on FLOTUS' theme even when they are boarding a helicopter for vacation. Someone has to put that together. Doing it is a valid and challenging job. In today's world everything is judged by image. Media and public scrutiny is intense--as this blog proves. Let the taxpayers be grateful for the image that the first family has on the world stage (but taxpayers are worse whiners than designers, by far).

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhilly

Great piece! I think it's a natural evolution of a woman's style. I remember in the 80's when I wore the longer blazers..because I didn't like short ones..guess what...now I like short ones. My style has changed from my 20s to my 30s and I expect it to change again once I hit the big 40! When i see how her choices of outfits has changed from the begging of the Obama Administration to now...to me it seems natural. If I could employ stylists...I would certainly rotate them regularly to keep my look fresh and unique. FLOTUS has managed to do that...while still maintaining a basic flavor to her look.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 11:37 AM | Registered CommenterLa Eve!

Interesting questions, but the answer can be found inside any woman. The First Lady is a woman, and a woman's style evolves. We are not static beings. Not only do we change, but our environment changes. The First Lady is a mother and a wife, who is functioning on the global stage. As for Oscar's comment, there are many things to take into consideration other than who designs a dress. A woman's whole look include accessories, access and attitude. A dress alone does not represent on the world's stage, but it is the whole presentation. Every culture is not the same. Some may feel "mocked" when people wear traditional garb to put on a circus-type show. We must not forget that the China's delegation specifically asked for American treatment, from the food to the decor. As an American, the First Lady, understands that we embrace and present styles from around the world. The State dinner was a presentation of the best of our diverse nation on display, and there is no better message to deliver to other nations than the fact that we can enjoy other cultures and grow without losing ourselves.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterLaVonne

I found a 1996 article by Suzy Menkes (http://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/17/style/beguiled-by-asian-influences.html). We often forget that great design and designers, including McQueen, was influenced by China. Mr. De La Renta may be showing his ignorance (though he claims no jealousy), and not his knowledge, by the comments he makes. As Ms. Menkes observed back in 1996: "Maybe designers are subliminally reflecting what sociologists are telling us: that the 21st century will belong to Asia, just as the 19th century was Europe's moment and America has dominated the 20th century. It could be a wry commentary on the fact that Western fashion sells up a storm in Asia, where the hunger to identify with a brand is bringing big business for fashion houses."

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterLaVonne

I have noticed that her choices have widened. And I like it. Staid is not a word in her sartorial vocabulary.

Gang, let's remember that this is a woman with the power to move markets to the tune of $2.7 billion. Profits are being posted and Americans are capitalists. We should be cheering her on, instead of finding any and everything to blast about every outfit. There is money to be made.

So kaybeel, what is the greater good? If we are paying for a stylist, it is only nickels in a bucket for all of us. Our American fashion industry is making great gains because of this woman and paying for a stylist is the least we could do.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:35 PM | Registered CommenterMcKinley

Hello Mrs. T,
I enjoyed your post...it read almost like a fashion mystery a who-done-it of sorts. Something is going on and there may be a someone new invovled in her selections...
I hope we find out....Mrs. O, regardless of who or what she is wearing, she leaves us wanting to know more.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdear

this is a great post. i am wondering who infuences her amazing selections as well. please keep us updated on what you find out. does she have a personal stylist? would love to know. and can we get it in book form is what i really want to know.

i follow this blog to see what i can put together in my own wardrobe. i love this blog. you are doing an excellent job with it!!

thank you.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterTonya

Mrs. T. Thank you for an insightful and interesting post. I have also noticed a change in Mrs. O's wardrobe and I've been loving it!
Her choices seem cleaner, more flattering, and of the moment. I felt like her previous style was dated and often did not seem to consider her body. I am happy for whatever transition she is making. Fashion should be inspiring and aspirational.
Therefore, @McKinley, totally agree with you...Mrs. O has an image and therefore needs someone with her to help her. It shocks me that people on this website have actually said that they believe Mrs. O shops for herself and her daughters? Where on earth would she find the time to do that? She is not your average woman....her clothing can be off the rack OR custom...either way, it certainly requires tailoring. How could she coordinate all these components for herself and her daughters? Clearly, she does not frequent the mall. I mean, really, think about it!

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandi

" So kaybeel, what is the greater good? If we are paying for a stylist, it is only nickels in a bucket for all of us."

Are you kidding? You want the taxpayers to pay for the White House to act as some sort of advertisement? You want the taxpayers to pay someone in the White House to decide whether, say, J.Crew or someone else gets the financial boost? Should the taxpayer just funded a few more Isabel Toledo outfits so she wouldn't have gone out of business?
What next? Our taxpayer funded WH cleaning crew starts having their picture taken using particular cleaning products to boost the consumer goods industry?
If the fashion industry is making money from it, they should (and in many cases, do) donate clothes to her.
Look, I think its great if she wants to be a fashionista. But that's her personal choice, and any funding for that personal habit shouldn't come at the expense of taxpayers, many of whom are struggling to buy cheap clothes for their families right now. At the very least, if the stylist is being paid by the taxpayer (as the term "White House Aide" would suggest), it should be known by the people paying the bill (us!). The WH has no right to be so coy about it.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterkaybeel

What will happen when taxpayers no longer have this First Lady of fashion around to stun us with her extreme fashions? Just think of the jobs that were created for this profound purpose.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJulLou

Mrs. T, thanks for your thoughtful and provocative piece on the genesis of Mrs. O's style. I always enjoy your writing immensely and look forward to your longer posts.

I agree with some that Mrs. O strikes me as someone who isn't so much interested in defining one particular style for herself but in truly enjoying the work of a diverse group of designers and welcoming the opportunity to showcase their best. It may be the case that she works with more than one person to achieve exciting results with whatever time she has to devote to her wardrobe. But I do relish the question about whether she has made some changes in consultation and who they may be.

Today she wore a basic (grey tweed?) suit with a very beautiful asymmetrical necklace. It was simple and elegant but I was more taken by her speech, which was heartfelt and generous. Dr. Biden also looked absolutely stunning head to toe. Perhaps she's also gotten some new assistance as well. Fun to speculate on all this and I look forward to hearing more.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 1:17 PM | Registered Commentermeta

I don't ever remember anyone ever questioning whether taxpayers were footing the bill for a stylist when Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Reagan, and the respective Mrs. Bush's were in the White House. So why now?

If Mrs. Obama is widening her ideas and reaching out to different sources for fashion advice - good for her. If she wants to give someone other than Ms. Ikram a chance to shine - good for her. If Mrs. Obama is like every other woman, and is just ready to change her personal style - than even BETTER for her.

I like a good mystery as well as the next person, but I am not going to cast aspersions on the First Lady's character because of a question that I think is unfair when it was never asked of other First Ladies.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 1:19 PM | Registered CommenterPatient


"I don't ever remember anyone ever questioning whether taxpayers were footing the bill for a stylist when Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Reagan, and the respective Mrs. Bush's were in the White House. So why now?"
Well, two reasons: first, those women weren't known for being particularly fashionable, except for Mrs. Reagan I guess (but I was a kid when Mrs. Reagan was in the White House, so I don't have much to add there.)

The second difference is that now, we're in tough economic times. I love Mrs. O, her sense of style and almost everything about her, but I don't want the White House paying some aide just to help her buy clothes. Now, who knows what the sourcing is on that and I'm not going to get mad over some anonymous stuff. But I am against the *idea* of it, for all the reasons kaybeel gave.

Then again, maybe this person serves in the same role to Mrs. O as Reggie Love does to the president -- a personal assistant and "body woman." I guess that might be okay.

Anyway, as for the notion that she might be broadening her outlook to incorporate advice from people other than Ikram Goldman -- I think that IS a pleasant little fashion mystery, and one Mrs. T wrote up quite well. I hadn't even noticed the change, but now that you put it all down in one post, it starts to make sense.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 1:35 PM | Registered CommenterChristina

Fascinating article.

One thought about Mrs. Obama's decision to wear "European clothes" to the state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. According to media reports, the Chinese delegation had requested American food for the state dinner menu.

Wearing a fabulous Western style ball gown would be a logical extension of this theme.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterKuentos

"I don't ever remember anyone ever questioning whether taxpayers were footing the bill for a stylist when Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Reagan, and the respective Mrs. Bush's were in the White House. So why now? "
Perhaps because nobody suspected any of those women had taxpayer-funded clothing stylists.
As I said, Mrs. Obama has chosen to be a fashionista first lady. That draws attention to such things. Mrs Clinton and the two Mrs Bushes did not make that choice. Mrs Reagan was a bit of a clothes horse and criticized pretty strongly. If first ladies in general have taxpayer-funded stylists, I'm all for canceling that perk from now on. I am certainly in favor of the WH being more transparent about it. We should know how our money is spent, don't you think?
I do remember hearing Mrs Clinton had many clothes donated, and the DNC paid for her hair and makeup artists. That seems more proper than taxpayers funding such perks.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterkaybeel

No Kaybeel, the reason no one cared about Mrs Reagan, Clinton, or Bush's clothing was that they thought too much inside the box. The only thing about Mrs Clinton's clothes that I can remember is the headbands. Mrs Bush and Reagan you could just pick them up and interchange them in the times and you would see the exact same pattern to the outfits. I couldn't describe one of their outfits to save my life.

As far as I know, the previous First Ladies had a designer bring a line to the White House and would spend countless time going through fittings and such. Mrs O doesn't have that time. She has two young ladies to raise, a husband to partner with, an initiative to get off the ground. and if she needs help in that arena, so be it. I am proud that this accomplished woman can get off a plane from a campaign stop and attend meetings at her daughters school. She has that priority straight.

I can go into SteinMart, Dillard's, and Macy's and stroll through the women's section and see Mrs O's influence everywhere I turn. Now would I spend $110 dollars on just a top (that amount of money on one item would make me palpitate for days). But I can buy pins, necklaces, and bracelets to enhance what is already in my closet. That is thanks to Mrs O, Ikram or whomever helps her.

If she has someone helping her make her and the girls style decisions I say bravo. I can't afford that but God love her she can and I think we can. I don't begrudge her that. She is an unpaid ambassador for the United States. Let's step back and imagine Mrs O in something from the back of her closet at the State Dinner or visiting heads of state. Yes she brought some clothes with her from Chicago, but then she was the wife of Senator Obama and now she is the wife of a head of state, she has had to step it up several notches and we can all agree that she has brought it.

I have prattled on too long on this but I am a little touchy on the subject of Mrs O.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 2:43 PM | Registered CommenterAnagrom

I am trying to analyzing Oscar del Renta's criticism of Mrs O's fashion choices. I think perhaps, the problem is not that of the First Lady's wardrobe but the socio-economic and cultural biases that Oscar de la Renta's brings to the situation.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 2:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterrcarre

Ms. O did not choose to be a fashionista first lady. The media did.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBJ

@ Christina - sorry but during Reagan's presidency, the economy was hurting....10% unemployment, remember? There are actually a lot of similarities between the economy during President Obama's time and President Reagan's as well.

@ Mrs. T - it is a subtle shift, but I do see a change in Mrs. O's wardrobe recently. It's almost simpler. I'm not sure money has a lot to do with it - it may more than likely be attributed to the shift in her husband's political situation - it's campaign time, so she must project a different image. Who knows, but it will be intersting to find out!

In terms of taxpayer money for a personal stylist, or for her clothing - it is kind of funny because I have a hunch many of the people - not all - who are worried about taxpayer money going toward a stylist, were hemming and hawing about her needing a stylist during the beltgate days. I have a feeling that like her hair and make-up stylist, any clothing stylist she has is paid for out of her own personal funds. Gosh, I have to say I absolutely hate these discussions...as if taxpayer money going toward a stylilst is the reason our country is having such debt woes. It stirkes me as petty and comes across a little jealous...I don't know, just weird. With the amount of money wasted on defense contracts, unfair tax policy, and unfunded wars, it seems so petty to me that people are sounding offended by the idea that maybe less than 1 cent of each of our tax dollars could go toward a stylist. I'm sure one cent is too generous, but you all catch my drift.

Let's put it all into perspective people.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 3:03 PM | Registered CommenterIVA

My hunch is she selects for herself and has assistance with all the logistics. Most likely since arriving at the WH she has worked out a system for vetting of designers and clothing submissions, and I am sure she gets a ton of them. While the idea of a stylist is nice, I don't see a stylist so much as a woman who's really come into her own. I suspect we're seeing the result of more ideas crossing her path in general than someone crafting a specific look.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 3:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterOxfarm

Extremely interesting post, Mrs. T, but I still don't understand Robin Givhan's tweet. Does that mean the more recent additions to the FLOTUS's wardrobe (the vintage Norrell, Marc Jacobs, etc.) are less expensive that the Ikram-sourced pieces? I can see why the logistics problem might provide the simple answer -- how often can Mrs. O and/or Ikram be flying between Chicago and DC?

In any case, I agree with the many who think Mrs. O's new choices are wonderful. That Roksanda Ilincic ensemble she wore to welcome the Chinese president is one of her best looks ever.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered Commentera MI Mom

I remember when it was just Jason Wu, Thakoon, Maria Pinto, Maria Cornejo and a hell of a lot of J Crew. Now we routinely see Jean Paul Gaultier, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenburg, Moschino, Alexander Mcqueen, etc. You know what I think? In the beginning there was a conscience decision to stay away from the major designers. I think politically her camp felt it would be devastating to her popularity during such a serious recession and she would be painted as a Marie Antoinette. I don't know where this new found comfortability with labels synonymous with big prices comes from, but I'm loving it. What I have been eyeing like a hawk is, is this a quiet move toward wearing some of the world famous designers the American public will pick up on for their exorbitant prices? Prada S/S 2011 is a fantastic collection in terms of its suitability with her wardrobe, as is Dolce and Gabbana's all white and black collection, but those are names and prices Fox News would use to tarnish her reputation as a modern, fashionable working who shops at the same stores as most women in America. Sarah Palin Valentino jacket/ $150,000 wardrobe ring a bell? I think her camp....whoever is in it....is making slowly but surely incorporating THE BIG BOYS as Mr. Obama's poll numbers increase and unemployment decreases.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRory

@ Mrs. T -

Sorry, but the misuse of "beg the question" is a pet peeve of mine. I think I was an English teacher in a previous life!

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterHydeParker

Mrs. T I also find your role in this EXTREMELY interesting. What surprised me about this post is that for the first time you have wondered aloud (or at least to the extent the article is written) questions surrounding the secrecy of who is in Mrs.O's camp and what exactly they are doing behind the scenes. Until today I assumed you were in some way involved in it, at least to the extent of speaking to her Press Secretary and the designers themselves. While you have shown how humble you are and probably would deny any formal connection whatsoever, this blog is the third most popular website on google when one queries "Michelle Obama". Number 3 of more than 43 MILLION - and that's only because of Wikipedia and whitehouse.gov. You have written a fantastic book on her and routinely break the news on information that is echoed by thousands of blogs, newspapers and news outlets including the New York Times, CNN and The Huffington Post. You have been featured in Vogue magazine because of the blog! It would not be a stretch to say you are quickly becoming one of the key historians documenting this ground breaking First Lady...so while you have your questions....we do as well! Has she sent you note personally? Or her team? Keep up the AMAZING work! More than 11 thousand facebook likes!? I am really proud of this little blog, I was here from the very first day :)

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 4:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterRory


In terms of taxpayer money for a personal stylist, or for her clothing - it is kind of funny because I have a hunch many of the people - not all - who are worried about taxpayer money going toward a stylist, were hemming and hawing about her needing a stylist during the beltgate days.

"Beltgate" -- ha!

I have a feeling that like her hair and make-up stylist, any clothing stylist she has is paid for out of her own personal funds. Gosh, I have to say I absolutely hate these discussions...as if taxpayer money going toward a stylilst is the reason our country is having such debt woes.

You're right, it's not like her belts are the reason we can't have universal health care. But, I can't ignore that there's some symbolism at work here. The Obamas set an example; they're the nation's family. And I think that it's not really fair to Mrs. O to suggest that *she* is somehow unaware that everything she does is scrutinized up one side and down the other. It's like the folks who were saying that the McQueen dress represented an "accidental" strap slip -- I mean, really? REALLY? Accidental? C'mon. This is a woman who knows what she is doing.

So she would know how it would look to have a stylist on the White House payroll. It "feels" not good, to me. I was always neutral on the idea of a stylist at all, because, really, who cares? Not my problem. Woman's been dressing herself for 40 some-odd years, but if she feels like she needs the extra help in this highly visible position and wants to pay for it, not an issue. But the idea that this person is a part of the White House staff? I don't know. It kinda rubs me the wrong way. Not in a I'M FULL OF RAGE!!!!! way, but in the same way I felt when I found out Al Gore pays enormous utility bills on his mansion. It just makes me wince.

With all that said, I have NO CLUE who the woman referred to is, what she does, or if she even exists. So I"m not going to get worked up about it. For all I know, there's a whole White House style "team" going back to Thomas Jefferson times, and we just never hear about them. Maybe the president has a stylist. Maybe Sasha and Malia have their own stylists. Maybe Bo has HIS own stylist. I'm not worrying about it. :-)

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 4:19 PM | Registered CommenterChristina

What an insightful post. I think her choices reflect a growing confidence in her ability to use fashion in a political sense but also in a way to open the eyes of the public. Your website and all of the others are now focused on her ability to push the American fashion industry ahead. It also may be away for more affordable clothes. Look at Vera Wang and Isaac Mizrahi opening their lines to women who want the look but can not afford it. I certainly enjoy the buzz around her choices. They are daring and yet flattering. Just think of all the possibilities in the next 2 years.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJudy

@HydeParker, I'm glad you said something. I've rephrased ...

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 4:37 PM | Registered CommenterMrs. T

Agree 100% Rory, excellent observation.

Quite honestly I've always been surprised that FOX never truly picked up on Michelle's clothes. I know she mixed in J Crew but to the average American that's still expensive so while I'm happy it wasn't an extra headache for the Obamas (& Dems) it's amazing that then and even now they are staying away from it (tennis shoe-gate doesn't really count lol).

It's funny that apart from Michelle showing a more down to earth side in interviews and wearing J Crew a lot more, Michelle & Desiree Rogers shop at the same boutique and wear similarly priced clothes & Desiree got all the "She's super posh" flack.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterMica

@ Christina - I can certainly see the concern about the symbolism of having a stylist on the taxpayer's dime, no matter how miniscule the amount of taxpayer money is really spent for a stylist. I do think, however, that IF she has one, she's paying for it, OR the person is more than just a stylist - maybe an assistant or someone that is normally part of the East Wing staff.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:03 PM | Registered CommenterIVA

Any idea who designed today's suit?


Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterBeeGee

When I saw the red ballgown, the first thing I thought of was the red of the Chinese national flag. Although the dress was by a British designer (who saw an untimely death),I thought that the color and the boldness of the dress was in keeping with Mrs. O's unspoken political nods of past events.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:26 PM | Registered CommenterStrong Foru

Hello there!
I am old enough to remember the clothing from the Kennedy and Reagan administrations. It is only in the last few years that authors, after the death of Mrs. Kennedy, have revealed some of the inner workings in the White House where Mrs. Kennedy's public ceremonial dress was concerned. Apparently things could get quite complicated then. Mrs. Kennedy was fortunate to come from a wealthy family and to have been dressed by and through Oleg Cassini before there was an Internet and a twenty-four hour news cycle. However, the reason I am writing is because of Mrs. Reagan who LOVED big designers and they loved her. Because they loved her so much and sent her so many dresses, the IRS actually stepped in and required her to pay taxes on them as income if she did not pay for them herself. While I am a bit fuzzy on the details, I do remember Mrs. Reagan's angst when she realized the she really did have to bear the expense of being first lady. Being president and first lady can get quite expensive and I shudder to think what kind of debt could be piling up for the first couple if they had not been blessed with the income from President Obama's books. Keep in mind that the First Family must pay for everything they consume in the White House outside of official functions. I also shudder to think of the vitriol and invective that would be hurled if Mrs. Obama had chosen the pathway of Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Ford, two of the more frugal first ladies in the fashion department. Finally before we start to get upset at the thought of a "White House aide" who may be helping Mrs. Obama, we also need to remember that there are several positions permanently budgeted into the White House in terms of personal assistants and aides. At the beginning of this administration someone counted up the employment positions in the East Wing and discovered that Mrs. Obama did not have any more "help" than previous first ladies. The big difference is that the microscope trained on Mrs. Obama is augmented by a very active but sometimes under-informed Internet and twenty-four hour news culture. Thank heavens for Mrs. T. whose blog and research have been absolutely pristine, fair, and, most of all, enjoyably fascinating!

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterDr. Cheryl

And another thing. I think it's very hippocritical of us to expect Mrs. O to look great, to represent us nationally and internationally and to follow her every (fashion) move, but become outraged at the notion that she has a paid stylist. I say, here! here! There should be a buget for the entire First Family's clothing. Why? Because they represent America, and, when they don't look "right" we all have a fit. Let's grow up America.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:35 PM | Registered CommenterStrong Foru

While I find the subject of the mysterious Ikram interesting, some of this other speculation as to 'means', motives, secret stylists etc. indicates that we all watch too much junky tv
Mrs. O reminds me of thousands of other wealthy women, they love clothes, buy a lot of them, and often spend enormous amounts of money on them. In that pursuit, they are no different than wealthy men, many of whom spend lavishly on cars, boats and golf.

Whoever wrote "the rich are different from you and me" spoke the truth.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterdella street

These designers are not, I feel, outside of Mrs O's usual remit. She has worn designers who are not stocked by Ikram before and I'm sure she will continue to do so. She has always chosen things that reflect specific events, environments, the people she will meet, chosen with respect for culture, country, children, beautiful appropriate colours, etc., etc. The blazing scarlet of the McQueen dress was a clear nod to China's flag if nothing else.... she has worn non-French designers in France, non-British designers in England. Should look for too much meaning where there isn't any....

About the stylish or no stylist issue - I have never thought Mrs O did have someone aside from Ikram's suggestions, and I still don't know - neither am I interested. I assume that like most well off, famous, busy women she is sent a LOT of stuff and chooses some of it. Possibly I have simply decided not to be curious about this part of it!!!

Were I to dwell on it for a bit..... I'd say that Ikram is still sourcing clothes and that maybe she or Mrs O also has someone in Washington to source more items, OR, to field offers from elsewhere. There must surely be plenty of people who now that Mrs O is solid gold in fashion icon currency, recognise and want to help facilitate her in finding pieces? Vogue used to help the Princess of Wales when she was starting out, it is not impossible that they might be "helpful". Although I think that unlikely, given the comment in the Andre Leon Talley interview when the First Lady is noted as having no second thoughts about her choices and asks for no opinion on the things that she chooses to wear. She obviously has a clear idea of what works and what she wants to wear and doesn't need approval so I think a lot of fuss is cut out right there. If Mrs O has a talent it's knowing precisely what she wants to wear and being able to scan a rail and pick it out fast - as any mother of school age children has to. I also recall that when she did the shoot - Vanity Fair? - and the hairdresser did something new to her hair that she didn't like she just said "no, put it up instead." By which I mean that this is not a woman who wastes time on this issue. She knows she needs four or six dresses for this coming week, looks at a rail, picks out four or six things, then goes and does something more interesting. Add in ten minutes for "OK, is this the colour of mourning where I'm going?" and you have it sorted.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:43 PM | Registered CommenterPosh Tater

I was talking to my Mother about this earlier, and she laughed saying people were interested in the other First Ladies ... I just never paid attention to politics until now!LOL (I was younger)

Also, she said that Mrs Reagan faced lots of criticism on many fronts about almost everything ... so I guess this stuff comes with the First Lady politics.

I personally don't think taxpayer money is being spent on a stylist inside the White House ... and if it is, I'm sure it will come out and all the necessary HOO-HA will commence.

I really believe that Mrs Obama is just more sure of herself, her personal style and what she wants to wear.

For the most part, I just like to see what she wears. I think she's an honest person so I can't see her doing anything that would embarrass the White House or her husband personally. If President Obama insists on paying for his own lunches, when people are offering stuff for free, because he doesn't want there to be any questions of honesty - no way will I believe she'd have a stylist on staff and taxpayers are footing the bill. Maybe its a s simple as her knowing another Ikram lady? Maybe she is consulting fashionable friends like Desiree Rodgers??? Who knows?? LOL

I will leave the mystery stuff to others ... I just like to tune in here to see what and who she is wearing.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:55 PM | Registered CommenterPatient

Umm, I do believe ALL First Ladies have had government-provided staffs, for many years. IMHO, HOW those staff hours are allocated should be up to the individual FL. If one of the Protocol positions, for example, were to have a particular specialty assignment, as long as all of the other regular work of the Staff as a whole is covered, what business is it of anybody's what that Protocol position is doing!?

And, according to Snopes.com http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/firstlady.asp, MO does NOT have an unusual number of staff, she might even be a couple below the averages going back to Jackie Kennedy.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterchimene

Ikram likely is still in the picture. I have always seen Ikram as Michelle's personal buyer. Ikram is known in Chicago to pull clothes for women like Michelle, Melody Hobson, and other prominent Chicago business women. I know that many of Malia, and Natasha's clothes are /were selected/purchased via a 'personal buyer,' I remember reading an article in 2009 about how some of their clothes are purchased outside of them being bought online.

I am curious about if FLOTUS does borrow her major event gowns like she borrows the jewels she wears for major events.

Her hairstylist and other beauty people are paid via FLOTUS personal money. I know that her L.A. hairstylist(Johnny) moved from L.A. to D.C., and works at a D.C. hair salon. Also, I remember that one of POTUS' aid said that POTUS offered to buy him a session with his train, which leads me to believe they use their personal finances. Furthermore, First Families pay for their food, and personal expenses except healthcare, security. While tax money is spent on State Dinners.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 6:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterMia Monte

@ Dr Cheryl:

Finally before we start to get upset at the thought of a "White House aide" who may be helping Mrs. Obama, we also need to remember that there are several positions permanently budgeted into the White House in terms of personal assistants and aides.
That's a really good point, actually. It is probably showing my own bias (even though I love fashion!) that I wince at the idea of a "White House stylist" but not, say, a White House barber. Is there that much of a difference? Probably not, when you think about it.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 6:19 PM | Registered CommenterChristina

Looking at the link above to Daylife, Michelle has on a really pretty gray suit today. But take a closer look at her necklace in one of the photos. What is up with the left side of that necklace?? It looks like a giant safety pin or some kind of lock.

Monday, January 24, 2011 at 6:56 PM | Registered Commenterbabs

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