Michelle Obama: A style and taste trend-setter

Michelle Obama arrives at the Inaugural Ball in 2009 and then 2013. The stylish first lady is a style setter.Photo / AP
Michelle Obama arrives at the Inaugural Ball in 2009 and then 2013. The stylish first lady is a style setter.Photo / AP

She has, in the space of little more than four years, become one of the world's favourite fashion plate: First Lady Michelle Obama is without doubt America's trend-setting arbiter of taste and style.

From her breezy new bangs to her elegant inaugural gowns, everyone sits in breathless anticipation of what new look Obama will come up with next.

And for the obscure fashion designer, nothing catapults a career into the stratosphere like having Obama wear one's clothes.

This week, that stroke of good fortune was enjoyed by Reed Krakoff, whose classic azure dress and cardigan were worn by Obama in the first lady's official portrait unveiled by the White House.

The first lady also chose Krakoff's designs for President Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony last month - an unanticipated two-for-one stroke of luck that still has him pinching himself.

"I knew there was a chance, but I didn't know for sure,'' he said.

"It's a great honour, it is an amazing thing for any designer.''

Obama boasts a law degree from Harvard, but clearly earned an honorary doctorate in fashion sense, with her penchant for cinched waistlines and classic silhouettes, but the willingness to mix things up with bold colours and edgy designs.

"She wears contemporary fashion, sometimes avant-garde fashion, but never in such a way that she looks like a fashion victim or looks too wild,'' said Patricia Mears, deputy director at the Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology.

"She wears a lot of American labels, but she is not afraid to wear something designed by someone who is from overseas or a foreign company.

"She embraces that modern trend of wearing things that are very high-end and also things that are very affordable,'' Mears added.

"This blending of high and low is what keeps her modern. There is also a very glamorous edge, and I think she does that on purpose, as part of giving the White House this blend of high style and modernity.''

Last week, it was one of Obama's go-to fashion favourites, Jason Wu, who lucked out, when the first lady donned one of his confections for the president's annual State of the Union address.

Obama first put the young Taiwan-born designer on the map four years ago when she selected his one-shouldered, draped chiffon ball gown for her husband's first inaugural ball.

One of the most closely held secrets in Washington was which designer would hit the jackpot this year and have Obama wear his or her design at last month's inaugural ball.

In a move that surprised veteran style watchers, that honor went for a second time to Wu, who designed for Obama a show-stopping, regal sensation in brilliant red that bared her sculpted arms.

But it's not just in the world of high fashion that she has made her mark. Michelle Obama, 49, has become famous for her knack at pairing high-end and low-end style, mating a $20 belt purchased online from J.Crew with a couture ensemble for her own signature brand of chic.

For J.Crew, the association with Obama has produced a windfall of great publicity and a bump in sales.

"People feel so connected to us through Michelle Obama,'' said Jenna Lyons, creative director at the casual contemporary wear company.

"That people outside of New York City and the US are talking about what she is wearing and recognize J.Crew for that - that's incredible.''

And now Obama's two daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, are also getting in on the act, showing some of their mother's talent for pulling together an eye-catching ensembles with a casual flare to spare in their recent public appearances.

Given her status as fashion industry kingmaker, fashionistas were paying extra close attention at New York's Fashion Week last week to get a glimpse of what a few of Obama's favourite designers were showing.

Wu was still on a cloud, after having had Obama choose his inaugural ball gown design again, and said he hopes their client-designer affiliation will continue long into the future.

"Having the first lady of America being a fan is something I am so honoured to be a part of,'' Wu said in an interview.

"Certainly I'm very excited to continue our relationship for many, many more years to come.''

- AFP

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