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American Fashion Designers will miss Michelle Obama as First Lady

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With just a few short days until Michelle Obama leaves the White House as First Lady of the United States, her absence from the fashion scene is bound to influence the US fashion industry.  Indeed, Mrs. Obama became a kind of patron saint not just to American designers but to US fashion retailers.   She is the first First Lady to make fashion accessible, wearing not just “bespoke” or couture custom designs but many off the rack items of apparel from  retailers such as J. Crew and  Target (Merona dresses, Jason Wu for Target to name a few.)

Michelle Obama in a Merona for Target Dress

Michelle Obama in a Merona for Target Dress on two separate occasions.

We even saw her wear her favorite Merona dresses in public several times.  Some fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood decried Mrs. Obama’s tastes. Ms. Westwood famously told the New York Times about Michelle Obama, ‘She’s a very nice looking lady, but it’s a nonstarter regarding clothes that suit her. Jackie Kennedy was a different matter altogether. It just has to suit her and be something that makes a human being more glamorous. That’s what fashion is there for. It’s there to help, not just to make you look more conservative.”

michelle obama in isabel toledo

Michelle Obama in a pale yellow dress and coat by Cuban American designer Isabel Toledo.

Well, some like Ms. Westwood didn’t feel  Mrs. Obama’s style was glamorous enough, however, what she did pressed the restart button on American fashion and suited the times.  Her husband took office during the great recession.  It was only fitting that she set the tone by showing  that as First Lady, she could look great without spending a fortune.

Michelle Obama in Tracey Reese

Michelle Obama in Tracey Reese

She popularized Tracey Reese, Michael Kors, Christian Siriano and emerging designers Isabel Toledo and Jason Wu.  By wearing their clothes, she actively helped drive revenue for American designers.  When she wore Tracey Reese at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the custom dress became so popular Ms. Reese had to put over 2,000 dresses into production to fulfill the orders.

Melania Trump #DGwoman ❤❤❤❤❤ thank you 🇺🇸 #madeinitaly🇮🇹

A photo posted by stefanogabbana (@stefanogabbana) on

In contrast, Mrs. Obama’s successor, Melanie Trump favors European designers.   At the Republican National Convention she wore Roskanda and Gucci.  For New Year’s at Mar-a-Logo, she wore a Dolce and Gabanna dress that was made in Italy and retails for approximately $2,995 at  Nordstrom & Saks Fifth Avenue.

Last week, designer Stefano Gabbana provoked a social media firestorm on Instagram when he posted a photo of Melania in the dress with hashtag #madeinitaly.  Despite comments criticizing D&G for supporting Melania, the dress has almost sold out everywhere.

Recently on Twitter, Donald Trump tweeted, “Anna Wintour came to my office at Trump Tower to ask me to meet with the editors of Conde Nast & Steven Newhouse, a friend. Will go this AM.”   I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Wintour is asking for the President Elect and Melania to support the American fashion industry.  After all, how can we make America great again without that support?

Jean Shafiroff, a New York socialite who knows Melania Trump, told the New York Post that Zac Posen, B Michael America, Victor de Souza and Zang Toi are all interested in outfitting Melania.  In contrast, designers Tom Ford, Sophie Theallet and Marc Jacobs have all said that they will boycott Mrs. Trump, and refuse to work with her due to her husband’s beliefs.  However, as designer Cynthia Rowley has noted, if it’s not custom made, then Melania Trump can buy off-the-rack clothes from any designer she wants to, as she did previously designer buying apparel on the website Net-a-Porter.

Michelle Obama Jason Wu dress.

Michelle Obama in a Jason Wu dress.

Personally, I will miss Michelle Obama’s style.  She was a great ambassador for American fashion and will be sorely missed.  I agree with Tom Ford, that the First Lady wearing a mix of styles and prices is important. “I think to relate to everybody, you shouldn’t necessarily [wear such expensive clothes], ’ Mr. Ford told England’s Telegraph.



Since 2008, Mary Hall has been the author of The Recessionista Blog, which is read by thousands of regular readers in over 160 countries. An internationally recognized expert on the art of the living the good life for less, she has been a commentator on local, national, and international radio and TV shows. Her advice has been featured in over 2,000 media outlets, including The New York Times, Reuters, Life & Style magazine, ABC News, NBC News and now The Huffington Post, among many others.

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