Holy ‘Toledo’!

What a day! Barack Obama stepped into history yesterday, as he was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States and his wife, Michelle stepped onto fashion’s stage, making her official ‘debut’ as First Lady. In the process, she gave the American fashion industry a much needed shot in the arm with her selection of Isabel Toledo’s pale gold coat ensemble as her choice for the daytime inaugural ceremonies and Jason Wu’s white chiffon one shouldered gown for the balls that followed.

Regardless of how you felt about her choices (and there’s already been a lot of talk), what is undeniable is that her endorsement of two labels that are not exactly household names (though it’s obvious that will change from now on) is bold and quite telling in terms of her style future for the next 4 years (and beyond). Taipei born 26 year old Jason Wu (no more, Jason ‘who’?) and Cuban born Isabel Toledo (a designer Michelle Obama has chosen for public appearances before) are almost unknown to the general public (CNN’s Campbell Brown admitted to fashion correspondent Robert Verdi that she was not familiar with the name), but both are well respected within the fashion world. Ms. Toledo is especially revered and worshipped: she has been honored with the Cooper Hewitt’s Design Award in 2005, was the recipient of the Couture Council of FIT’s 2008 Fashion in Artistry Award, and will be the subject of the Museum at FIT’s exhibit, ‘Holy Toledo! Isabel Toledo and the Art of Fashion’, this coming spring.

The empire waist knee length textured pale gold coat, (which was actually gold lace overlaid onto wool lined in pashmina), featured a slightly shorter matching sheath underneath, adorned with a bejeweled neckline. I, like others, did think it was a trifle dressed up, a bit more ‘cocktail’ than 11 AM, and perhaps a bit too ‘Mother of the Bride’, and I might have preferred something else for this day. I was actually hoping for, or expecting something highly sculptural and ultra sophisticated and chic.

Having said that, with all this talk about ‘Recession Chic’, and what to wear and what not to wear these days, I dare say the one place you don’t want to see ‘Glunge’ (glamour plus grunge), is on the First Lady. (Who wants to see dull, dour, and depressed? The Obamas are the new ‘American Royalty’ after all). The yellowy gold was a flattering hue which beautifully complimented Mrs. Obama’s complexion, and accessorized with pale green leather gloves from J.Crew, it was an unexpected, welcome respite from all the black these days. (Though I would have preferred tall suede boots instead of the pumps and bare legs she chose, which looked a bit spring like for the cold winter day). And one can argue that the sunny happy shade was also symbolic of the fresh optimism that comes with the Obama Presidency.

As for the white Jason Wu gown, while some expressed their disappointment, (some ‘experts’ expected something halter styled and jewel toned), I liked it and my first impression was that the First Lady looked beautiful, fresh, soft, and very youthful. (For the record, I do think she would have looked amazing in something architectural by Ralph Rucci). Of course, it doesn’t need pointing out that Mrs. Obama is a great looking woman who is enviably statuesque, has great carriage, impeccable grooming, and oozes with confidence. And she has intuitive personal style. Her own personal style. Basically, it is almost impossible for her to not look good. She even looks regal in flats. I loved the black flat over the knee boots she wore with her purple dress and short black coat last Saturday. Accessorized with purple leather gloves (the coat had bracelet length sleeves), the look was modern, effortless, and chic and could have easily been her Inaugural outfit. But enough second guessing!

For the record, I was not one of the many critics of that now famous (or infamous) red and black Narciso Rodriguez dress, which she wore on election night. While in retrospect, it may have not been the most flattering dress (and undoubtedly it looked better in person than on television), I think it proved that she is above all, bold, her own person, has her own style, is not a carbon copy of anyone else, and happily will experiment and take risks (a fashion world’s dream). And she is only human. Oh my gosh…who among us (even the most style-celebrated) can claim to have never tried something only to have realized it was probably not the best choice? At least she didn’t look like so many First Ladies before her, who have no taste, no style, no sense of drama. Which brings me to the fabulous and always timely Diana Vreeland quote which perfectly describes my thoughts on said subject: “Bad taste is better than no taste”.

I also loved the way her black and red dress perfectly coordinated with the girls, Malia and Sasha, that evening. Speaking of whom, are they not the most adorable (and poised) young ladies? And what little budding fashion plates they are! Who could help but notice how chic they looked in the little white coats they wore last Saturday, as the family made their way from Philadelphia to Washington via train, or in their widely belted custom made J. Crew (Crew Cuts) bright coats with contrasting scarves on Inauguration Day? What a great looking family! While daddy, who is already being hailed as a ‘cultural icon’ in the manner of Nelson Mandela, certainly has more important things on his mind than clothes or fashion (he will be busy ‘fixing’ the world), his three gals will be a joy to watch and will no doubt, serve as inspiration for many.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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