Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguralk Day Fashion of the Obama Ladies

Ending months of speculation, First Lady Michelle Obama revealed her dress for the swearing-in ceremony -- a sparkly yellow day dress and coat -- and its designer: Isabel Toledo.

The International Herald Tribune reported that the designer did not know until this morning that the first lady would wear her lemongrass-yellow coat and matching dress she specially designed for her:

"We're all up here watching the T.V.," said the designer in a telephone interview from her New York studio.

Toledo, who has been making clothes in New York for 25 years, said the coat and dress were made of Swiss wool lace, backed with netting for warmth and lined in French silk.

"I wanted to pick a very optimistic color, that had sunshine," she said. "I wanted her to feel charmed, and in that way would charm everybody."

For her shoes, however, Mrs. Obama stuck with safe, green patent-leather Jimmy Choo heels.

It was not the first time Michelle Obama opted for the 47-year-old Toledo, an avant-garde designer born in Cuba and little known outside the rarefied world of fashion. Last June, Obama appeared at a Calvin Klein fundraiser in Manhattan in a black tunic and palazzo pants Toledo had designed. Obama bought the outfit at Ikram, a Chicago outlet for Toledo's clothing line.

For her daughters on Tuesday, Mrs. Obama picked colorful choices that were more in tune with the deep blues and crimsons that she’s become known for. Malia, 10, looked elegant in a deep-blue belted J.Crew coat while 7-year-old Sasha popped on the camera in a pink coat, also by J.Crew, paired with an orange scarf and gloves.

"First of all, how good-looking is my wife?" asked President Barack Obama at the first of 10 official inaugural balls, as Michelle Obama revealed her second blockbuster outfit of the day: a white chiffon one-shoulder gown by Jason Wu.

The dress, with a strap across one shoulder, ruched bodice, fluffy appliqu├ęs and sparkling beading, will (as tradition dictates) be donated to the Smithsonian.

The fashion industry has anxiously looked to the election of President Obama for months, embracing his wife as an emblem and ambassador of modern style, who wears clothes from young designers as well as mainstream American retailers.

Wu, who has only shown a collection since 2006, and Toledo, who had a short stint at Anne Klein but is considered relatively avant-garde, are exactly the kinds of designer Obama gravitates toward.

"There is nothing that comes close to this moment," Toledo said, speaking in New York. "It's not just my moment and hers, but it's the world's...It's not only what she's wearing. It's what the moment represents."

Toledo said she chose the lemongrass color for the optimism it represents.

"I didn't want a traditional blue or red," she said. "That color has sunshine in it. I fell in love with it. So did she."

That unusual shade of yellow "really popped" on Michelle Obama's complexion, said fashion designer Kai Milla, wife of Stevie Wonder and an invited guest to the swearing-in ceremony.

"What I recognized more than anything from our new first lady and Hillary (Clinton) and everyone else is that everyone was fresh," she said.

The overall day-look was largely a hit.

"She's off to an auspicious start," said Hamish Bowles, Vogue magazine's European editor-at-large who curated the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute exhibit on Jackie Kennedy in 2001.

"Mrs. Obama's choice today was appropriate, dignified and elegant, but it also had a considerable element of fashion panache," he added. "She's finding great American talent."


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