Designers see Michelle as new Secretary of Fashion
While devotees of President Obama's "change we can believe in" slogan cherish starry-eyed visions of saving the planet, doing an economic 180 and kicking terrorist butt, serious fashionistas share a whole new meaning for the mantra.
After eight years of Laura Bush's matronly style and another eight years of Hillary's beloved pantsuits - it's time for wardrobe change we can believe in.
For months, the fashion world speculated about what Michelle Obama would wear Tuesday.
The new first lady warmed up the chill January day in a soft gold outfit by Isabel Toledo, an American born in Cuba.
"I knew she would have a style all her own - something not the norm, not ultraconservative but an updated classic," said Jennifer Massarelli, a designer and owner of Enchantments boutique in Glen Ellyn. "I think we'll see a lot of that."
Later at the inaugural balls, Michelle shimmered in a frothy, one-shoulder white gown dreamed up by American designer Jason Wu. The choice took style pundits by surprise and has the fashion world talking.
What's different about this new first lady? She loves vibrant, jewel colors and prints, isn't afraid to show her legs and arms, and looks great in sheath dresses.
"She's very classic and elegant. I think she will become an icon," predicted fashion designer Kate Coxworth, a St. Charles native.
"She loves fashion. She gets it," Massarelli said.
Obama is frequently associated with Maria Pinto, the hip Chicago clothes designer from Palatine who created the teal dress she wore for her convention speech. But the new first lady has also favored casual styles from J. Crew, White House Black Market (that's the dress that got its own 15 minutes of fame on "The View") plus runway stars like Narciso Rodriguez.
Harper College fashion instructor Julie Cole loves the combination of haute mode and off the rack.
"She can go to H&M or J. Crew and wear something of theirs and combine it with a high-end designer - I hope she keeps doing that," Cole said. "She has a sense of who she is and of her own style."
Massarelli envisions Michelle's future fashion statements as "more romantic: She'll wear classic, timeless dresses with very flowing, unstructured lines."
And clothing designer Yana German of Wheeling forecasts that "she'll experiment with a lot of designers but be edgy and neoclassical."
Comparisons to Jackie Kennedy are continually popping up in the blogosphere on sites like The Black Snob or Mrs. O and in uber-conservative pundit Anne Coulter's latest screed.
Experts agree that like Jackie O. coming after Mamie Eisenhower, Michelle will bring haute couture to the White House. But it's too simplistic and does both women a disservice to join them at the hip now, they caution.
"Her style is much different from Jackie Kennedy," said German, who specializes in clothes for working women with the Yana Collection.
"Jackie O. was almost on a level with Coco Chanel," agreed Massarelli, adding JFK's wife pioneered trends such as pillbox hats and business suits for woman.
But Michelle will no doubt start fashion trends. "She and her stylist will get flooded with gorgeous designs," Massarelli said.
Coxworth and others celebrate the fact Obama is getting the word out that you can be a powerful woman - and wear a dress, not the ubiquitous power suit female politicians sport.
"It's OK to look more feminine," said Coxworth, whose clothing line, Kate Boggiano, features women's shirts.
German added, "you can still be a political figure and have a fashion savvy."
Michelle's style will also reflect she's got young children - in other words, outfits that can withstand dirty hands and give enough to allow her to pick up 7-year-old Sasha without ripping a seam.
"She's at a time when comfort needs to play a big role," said German, a mother of two.
One endearing trend is Michelle's practice of dressing her girls in outfits that mirror her ensembles, such as Malia, 10, in red and Sasha in black on Election Night next to Mom in a Narciso Rodriguez black-and-red creation.
"I think it's adorable. She's trying to keep them as a whole, as a family," German said. "The bottom line is to complement each other. She's the queen and they're the little princesses; it's very age appropriate."
Domestically, Massarelli forecasts that Michelle's era "will bring nothing but great things for the fashion industry."
And she won't do too badly overseas, German said, explaining, "you want other countries to know we, as Americans, have a style sense."