Mrs-O.com is a blog dedicated to chronicling the fashion and style of First Lady Michelle Obama. Founded September 2008. 



The World Waits

 Design by 3.1 Phillip Lim via The London Times

Ahead of next Tuesday's inauguration, unsurprisingly the Mrs. O fever gripping the U.S. fashion press has spread to Europe and beyond. We particularly wanted to share a significant piece in the London Times yesterday, also viewable on their website here, which was devoted to speculation and comment about the soon-to-be First Lady's outfit for the event.

As Lisa Armstrong, the Times writer, reminds us, the choice of dress is so much more than just a fashion statement, photographed in all the papers one day, only to disappear the next. "For all the fireworks surrounding the clothes that women in the public eye wear today, a surprisingly small number of outfits become totemic. Diana's wildly romantic wedding meringue on an uncharacteristically hot July day in London, 1981; Dior's New Look suit, launched on an incredulous, glamour-starved public in 1947 - [these looks] have become freighted with a social significance that elevates their aesthetics into eloquent parcels of visual history."

She continues, describing how the historical significance cannot be denied: "This is important, not just because in view of the Carla (Bruni) effect, America is crying out for a stylish First Lady after decades of what can most kindly be described as matronly chic in the White House, but because what Mrs. O wears is likely to end up one day in the Smithsonian...First Lady dresses are always important in their way - pored over for signs and hidden statements of intent, they inevitably become symbols of the incoming President's belief system..."

And at the same time, expectations of the populace worldwide, here and now, are huge and contrary: "...ultimately these outfits are sartorial landmines waiting to happen. They must transcend class, colour and financial barriers. Ideally they should impress, endear and unite. Really it's like asking a blanket to bring world peace, and be fascinating at the same time." No pressure then.

The good news is that a well-founded confidence in Mrs. O's ability to choose wisely is felt worldwide too. Her ability to carry off strong colours, or indeed winter white, is repeatedly praised. And as Armstrong concludes: "On her side, however, is her innate sense of style...Bottom line, she's a good-looking woman who knows her way around upmarket labels (in the past year she has worn, among more predictable names, Thakoon and Rodarte, both up and coming darlings of New York Fashion Week). Fashionable, in a user-friendly way, she even made it onto Vanity Fair's 2008 Best Dressed list. She can wear just about any color and she's the first First Lady since Jackie Kennedy who can anoint trends and sell out a dress (for example, the black and white sundress she wore to guest host ABC's The View). As Peter Som, another New York talent, says: "What she wears has a huge impact on fashion. From day one she has shown her own modern style that many women can identify with or aspire to."


The Mix is the Message

Image of Ikram Goldman used with kind permission from photographer Anna Knott, www.annaknott.com

We know that while Mrs. O doesn't work with a fashion stylist, she often collaborates with her hometown favorite designer Maria Pinto. But over the years she has built another fashion partnership that can be summed up in one word: Ikram.

That is the definitive Chicago boutique, which is named after its glamorous owner. A few months ago, we reported on visiting Ikram, where women discover their inner chic selves. But we think it's worth exploring Ikram - both the store and the person - again because the odds are high some time over the next five days that Mrs. O will appear in an outfit she put together at this boutique. 

Aside from Maria Pinto, the brightest fashion influence on Mrs. O has been Ikram. (Ikram will not comment or talk about any of her clientele.) Which is not to say that Mrs. O has been styled by the boutique. Rather, Ikram expands the fashion possibilities for anyone who shops there. For Ikram, the clothes are all about a mix and the mix is the message. Mrs. O wore designers from Ikram at the Democratic National Convention (Narciso Rodriguez, Peter Soronen, Thakoon, Erickson Beamon), during her interview with Barbara Walters (Jason Wu), and to a fundraising party hosted by Vogue magazine (Isabel Toledo with a Tom Binns necklace). Other Mrs. O sightings in Ikram-based designers: She donned Zero|Maria Cornejo on the campaign trail, sported earrings by Loree Rodkin on election night, and used that iconic black Alaia belt throughout the past year. All of these designers can be found at Ikram.

Yes, the clothes and jewelry can be purchased other places, too, but here they are brought together under one roof and edited by one discerning eye. The glory of shopping at Ikram is Ikram Goldman herself. (Although the cinnabar-colored walls and the large dressing rooms outfitted with Japanese kimono-style robes are fun, too.) She is no fashion dictator, imposing an identifiable template on every customer. Instead, she encourages her customers to "play" with the wares, mixing items up to create a very personal look. (Ikram's personal look includes Nars Velvet Matte lip pencil Cruella D26 and Halston perfume, along with her strong preference for black clothes and flat shoes.) She will even tell clients to bring in clothes they already have in the closet for tweaking and new accessories. And she uses her impeccable eye to bring together some of the most exciting designers working today. But she also isn't above working the dressing rooms herself, providing a personal touch.

We spent several weeks shadowing Ikram for a Chicago magazine profile and it was fun to be in that glamorous, creative atmosphere.  Given Mrs. O's sartorial history with this boutique, in the near future we may be seeing the new First Lady wearing clothes from designers like Tom Scott or Rodarte, both of whom are available at Ikram.  Or even something from Ikram's extensive personal collection of vintage designer clothing. Whatever future outfits Mrs. O wears, we know they will be a reflection of her fashion sense and sensibility, one that explores the possibilities. And the magic is in the mix.


Mum's the word

As bits of information had begun to surface this week - Mrs. O's official hair stylist for the Inauguration, the family's official White House decorator - we had hoped that it was a sign of things to come. Specifically, that an early announcement would be made with details on what and who Mrs. O will be wearing throughout next week's Inaugural festivities. (In the past, first ladies have sometimes announced such details in advance.)

But according to Stephanie Green of The Washington Times, the waiting game continues. She reported yesterday that "an aide to Mrs. Obama who asked not to be identified confirmed that 'an announcement may not be made until Tuesday.'" There's nothing like mounting suspense. Wait on, we must. Update: To help bide time, the Today Show ran another First Lady fashion segment this morning, touching on Inaugural fashion of first ladies past, while adding another round of speculation on what Mrs. O might wear next week. Cindi Leive, Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, weighed in with thoughtful and well-researched commentary.



Found Treasures: Tom Binns Jewelry

Image used with the kind permission of Tom Binns Design.

"Jewelry is always a treasure and though it may not be made of gold and diamonds, it should still have that sentiment." Such is the philosophy of Tom Binns, whose jewelry designs have been worn by Mrs. O - most notably at the Vogue fundraising event hosted by Calvin Klein in June 2008. The ornate and clever work of Binns (born in Belfast, Ireland, and now residing in California) has long been known to the fashion cognoscente.

Influenced by the Dada movement (a philosophy that started around 1916 and rejected conventions in art and thought), Binns concentrates on "object trouves" - found objects like beach glass and faux gems - and reworks them into stunning pieces of jewelry. Mrs. O wore his necklace with a flowing black tunic and evening pants by Isabel Toledo. The necklace is a unique piece from Binns' The Raj Collection (so unique, in fact, that Binns himself doesn't have a studio photograph of the necklace).

"It was a take on the Maharajas' jewelry from India, which is extremely decadent," Binns told us. "I tried to interpret the look using faux materials such as fake pearls, vintage rhinestones, and sea gems." "To go to an event held in your honor and hosted by Calvin Klein - well, that could make anyone feel intimidated," says Sally Singer, Fashion News Director for Vogue. "But [Mrs. O] didn't hesitate or pander; she wore this outfit and jewelry - I mean, Tom Binns is a sophisticated choice! - that made her very special. That is not Fashion 101 - that's graduate level." Of course, we already knew that Mrs. O was at the head of the fashion class. But we continue to be awed by her ability to find and combine exciting pieces of fashion. Evidently, she excels at the object trouves philosophy as well.


Couture for a Cause

Photo courtesy of White House Black Market

Who can forget when, in June 2008, Mrs. O wore her now famous Donna Ricco leaf print dress to co-host The View. Revealing it was bought at the store that sells "all black and white stuff", the moment both endeared style savvy, budget-minded women across this country, and served as a huge win for the retailer White House | Black Market.

It's only fitting then that White House | Black Market would also bring chic, affordable fashion to the inaugural season. The retailer has completely transformed its Union Station boutique in Washington, D.C. into an inaugural dress headquarters, offering an expanded range of formal dresses and accessories. On display is a collection of four, one-of-a-kind couture gowns, aptly named The White House Inaugural Collection. Each size 8 dress is inspired by Mrs. O's style and named after a former First Lady.

The gowns are being auctioned off in partnership with the Clothes Off Our Back Foundation, with proceeds benefiting Feeding America, The Art of Elysium, Hope North and H.E.L.P. Malawi charities. We caught up with Lisa Converse, SVP of Design at White House | Black Market, to discuss the evolution of the White House Inaugural Collection. Converse said the design team wanted the gowns to embody "classics with a twist" and "intellectual sex appeal", both attributes they see in Mrs. O's signature style.

Eight designs were narrowed to four, each chosen for its reference to a past era. Converse named The Abigail as her favorite dress for its chiffon layers and contemporary asthetic, but thought the elegant, one-shoulder Ladybird might best suit Mrs. O's style. The Clothes Off Our Back auction ends later tonight (and if it's anything like a typical Ebay auction, we're sure there's an 11th hour bidding war on the brew). With the prize of couture for a cause at stake, it will be a bidding frenzy well-deserved.