18 May 2009

The First Lady effect

Judging by the public fascination and column inches generated by Michelle Obama's style choices, it's perhaps no surprise that the First Lady is being credited with reviving the American fashion industry. But how deep does her impact really run? Well, some of the pieces she wears spark an immediate fashion stampede: the J Crew beaded cardigan she wore to Number 10 ended up on eBay it was so coveted, and designer Sophie Theallet says her £600 plus shirtdress sold out instantly. Michelle's choices are influencing design in some quarters, too – with the director of J Crew noting that, given her penchant for mid-heel height shoes, there will be kitten heels aplenty in stores this autumn. (Really now? Really?)

Her fashion power is reflected in the unprecedented level of interest in designers who Michelle Obama chooses to support. ‘It's like having an international ad campaign,' reports Thakoon. Meanwhile Jason Wu – perhaps the most famous of all Michelle's designers du jour, after creating her Inaugural Ball gown – admits he's been catapulted to fame and mob scenes now greet his trunk shows, the last of which saw sales of over £80,000. But not all are experiencing direct sell-through results. Maria Cornejo says she's got a new wave of customers, but they're the type of discerning clientele who won't want the exact piece that Mrs O has been photographed in. ‘I don't think our customers are the kind of people who are going to say, "I want the Michelle Obama dress," but the fact that she wears these designers legitimises the purchase they're making. They feel like their head is in the right place,' says one boutique owner who stocks the First Lady's preferred designers.

 So, it looks like Michelle's encouraging women to shop locally and helping raise the profile of young, up-and-coming names, which we reckon can only be a good thing. Maybe we can even forgive her for the rise in kitten heels... [WWD]


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