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



What Lies Ahead: Hope for the Fashion Industry?

Michelle Obama

Image used with kind permission from Glennia Campbell and Momocrats

Can Mrs. O revive a flagging fashion industry? Certainly, the hopes of American designers, merchandisers, and fashion journalists are riding high on the possibility. With Macy's closing 11 stores in nine states and with various established designers (Vera Wang, Carmen Marc Valvo, Betsey Johnson) pulling out of the Bryant Park fashion tents in February's New York Fashion Week, there is no doubt that fashion is flagging.

"Michelle Obama is already incredibly influential," Sally Singer, Vogue's Fashion News Director, tells us. "There is an immediate buzz in the fashion world. She motivates people to think about wearing something that looks beautiful, regardless of the price point." For the fashion industry, it might be coming just in the nick of time.

Last Thursday, Chicago shoppers lined up in the sub-freezing temperatures, waiting for the doors to open at the Maria Pinto boutique. It was the first sample sale there since the election and the occasion brought both established Pinto customers as well as many newcomers who wanted to purchase part of a brand made famous by Mrs. O. Sales ranged from $25 suede bustiers to $75 casual wraps to $500 party dresses. 

Coincidentally, the same day the New York Times ran a story titled, "U.S. Fashion's One-Woman Bailout?," which discussed Mrs. O's penchant for high-low dressing and her ability to create shopping frenzies (both the $148 White House/Black Market black print dress from The View and her Tonight Show  J. Crew yellow cardigan sweater and silk printed blouse and skirt sold out in less than 48 hours after she appeared in them).

"With flashcard clarity [during the campaign], she signaled an interest both in looking stylish and also in advancing the cause of American fashion and those who design and make it," wrote NYT writer Guy Trebay. The article praised her fit, athletic figure, her sense of making clothes work for her needs, and, according to one subject interviewed, "her very conservative, jock-preppy....safe American WASP way of dressing." Hmm, we would beg to differ a bit on that last point.

Yes, the J. Crew outfits she wore in southern states during the campaign (printed cotton skirts with matching T-shirts and cardigans) could fall into a preppy category. And yes, her puffer coat (which she just wore again Saturday night when the family visited the Lincoln Memorial) could be described as somewhat jock-athletic. But who would call the black and red Narcisco Rodriguez Election Night dress "safe"? Or by what stretch would the clothes she wore at the Democratic Convention (Thakoon, Moschino, Peter Soronen) be considered "conservative"?

One of Mrs. O's most intriguing style approaches is her ability to mix up her look-wearing flats with sheaths, tossing shrunken cardigans over beaded dresses, using jewelry in unexpected ways. All of that is a major break with the fashion sense of past First Ladies and other public women, whom we have been used to seeing in complete matching ensembles off the designer rack. In the photo shown at the top, taken in October 2008, we see Mrs. O in a look that is beautiful yet unusual for her: wearing a black-on-black fitted suit jacket and top. The buttons on both the jacket and the top are the same fade-to-black color as the fabric. Even the necklace (we wonder if it is oxidized sterling silver beads by jewelry designer Tom Binns-perhaps part of his Couture Tough Chic collection?) falls into the same color family, offering tonal sheen to this dark outfit. It is one more new spin on a standard look from Mrs. O.

With her fresh approach to clothes, maybe she shouldn't worry about the hopes of the fashion industry. Maybe she just needs to keep dressing for herself. And the rest will follow.


What Lady Bird Wore

Her given name was Claudia, but the public knew her by her nickname. She became First Lady when her husband Lyndon Baines Johnson, then vice president, assumed office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963. In 1964, Johnson was elected president in his own right via in a landslide election and Mrs. J joined her husband at an inauguration ball that combined Texas exuberance and Beltway-style glamour.

Mrs. J loved wildflowers, particularly Texas bluebonnets-she would become known for her restoration of wildflower fields-but when it came to choosing a color for her inauguration gown, she went with a bold jonquil yellow. Designed by John Moore, a protégé of Norman Norell and the man behind Marilyn Monroe's wedding dress when she married playwright Arthur Miller, the gown was made of double weave silk. It sported a square neckline with inverted pleats and cap sleeves. Over it, Mrs. J wore a matching coat with three-quarter length sleeves trimmed in sable. White opera gloves and a strand of pearls tucked into the neckline completed the look.

The look is incredibly pared down and non-frilly (except, of course, for the sable), relying on the color and the silk, with its luxurious sheen and weight, to make its statement. While we know that Mrs. O loves a wonderful print dress, we have also seen her wear dresses that also rely solely on a bold color, cut, and fabric to carry the day-or the evening. We'll soon see which Mrs. O chooses for January 20.


The Influence of Vionnet

This stunning smoke grey chiffon evening gown looks au courant, but it was designed 60 years ago by Madeleine Vionnet, considered one of the most influential dress designers of the 20th century. Mrs. O's home-town favorite designer Maria Pinto has long said she is a great admirer of Vionnet's work, and with this dress -- currently seen in Chic Chicago: Couture Treasures from the Chicago History Museum  -- we see why. 

Signature Vionnet touches-draping, understated yet vital detailing, and flow of the material--are all present here. Vionnet (1876-1975), who lived and worked in Paris, designed dresses that liberated women from dependence on restrictive underpinnings and corsets. She achieved this by emphasizing the bias cut, which enables fabric to cling softly to the body while the person moves. She also created the halter top, the handkerchief dress, and the cowl neck. Her designs dominated the fashions of the 1920s and 1930s and later designers who were influenced by her work include Geoffrey Beene, Halston, and Azzedine Alaia.

We see some contemporary twists on Vionnet design principles in Pinto's Fall `07 collection  (fourth row, middle photo) and again in her Spring `08 collection (third row, right photo). Chic Chicago indeed. "I have been dreaming of staging a Maria Pinto exhibition and I would love to display one of Pinto's pieces next to a Vionnet," says Timothy Long, curator of costumes and textiles at the Chicago History Museum. "The similarities would be stunning. Both designers' work show their understanding of how properly designed, cut, and constructed gowns should compliment a woman's body."

We have noted in the past how many of Pinto's designs perfectly suit Mrs. O. As Vionnet said, "The dress must not hang on the body but follow its lines. It must accompany its wearer and when a woman smiles, the dress must smile with her." It's a sentiment that Mrs. O would endorse.


A glimpse at the inaugural dress?

There’s been considerable debate over whether Mrs O should showcase her trademark jewel colours for her inauguration dress or go for a classic white gown as favoured by Nancy Reagan and most famously Jackie Kennedy. There are staunch Mrs O supporters in both camps and of course we won’t know either way until the 20th, but we can offer a glimpse of what a winter white inaugural gown might look like.

Back in May 2005, Mrs O wore this gorgeous Maria Pinto dress to attend the Legends Ball hosted by Oprah Winfrey. Stunningly simple in the cut of the bodice, the dress allows the shimmering fabric-it looks like a silk taffeta-to speak for itself. The gown is soft and relatively unstructured aside from the tiered skirt, a touch of drama added with the matching ruffled wrap-a Pinto signature.

Mrs O accessorises perfectly for the occasion with a sparkling choker and earrings and an elegant up-do. The combination of opulence and restraint means that despite the formality of the occasion, she manages to look fresh and youthful. A look at Mrs O’s previous evening wear, including this gown, gives a few intriguing hints as to what we might be able to expect on Inauguration day. I

nterestingly, given her usual vibrant hues, Mrs O has in the past often tended towards a softer palette for evening in pastel pinks and blues. She is clearly a fan of Pinto’s embellished wraps and seems to favour a less structured, more softly draped look than she chooses for daywear. She often wears her hair up in the evening, the better to showcase the statement earrings she favours for formal events and the elegant lines of her dresses. So will Mrs O stay true to form or surprise us all? Only time will tell.


Sneaking a Peek

Michelle Obama Gives an Autograph

Photo used with kind permission from Nevada for Health Care

We think Mrs. O looks lovely in this ribbon-embroidered organza overtop she wore last year in Nevada. Combined with the shiny pewter tank underneath, the top gives her face an extra glow. The tiger eye stone earrings, circled in gold, complete the burnished look.  These kinds of luxurious metallic neutrals could provide a regal look for Mrs. O's inaugural gown. But we won't know until the evening of January 20th what she will be wearing to the ten official Inauguration Balls.

Until then, though, it is possible to get a sneak peek at what other people will be wearing to the festivities.  The site Dress Registry is a handy way for women to record details about what gown (including designer name, color, length, and neckline) they plan to wear to which inauguration fete. Sometimes a photo of the dress is also posted.    Every Inauguration Ball is listed on this site and, so far, we see dresses ranging from Badgley Mischka, Chanel, and Dolce & Gabbana to ABS and H&M. We love fashion democracy and what better evening for it to shine than inauguration night.