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

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Wednesday
Jan142009

First Decorator

We all know about the West Wing of the White House from the fabled television series, but the East Wing of the White House is the First Family's private quarters. Therefore, it is off-limits to photographers, except when a new First Family moves in. Then one shot of the remodeled family sitting room is released to the public.

Recently we saw the Bush sitting room, with the current First Lady and the future one when Mrs. O went calling on Laura Bush after the election. That room, along with the other private rooms, will be transformed on January 20th. The transformation takes place during the swearing in ceremony and the parade, while the First Family is otherwise occupied, and now we know who will be in charge of the new look. According to the Presidential Transition Office, Mrs. O has chosen her White House decorator: Michael S. Smith, a Los Angeles-based decorator who is known for mixing his English country house style with contemporary furnishings.

"Michael shares my vision for creating a family-friendly feel to our new home and incorporating some new perspectives from some of America's greatest artists and designers," said Mrs. O. Smith himself has talked about the family's "casual style, their interest in bringing 20th century American artists to the forefront, and [their interest in] utilizing affordable brands and products." He has been known to combine luxury custom work with both antiques and items from Anthropologie, Target, Urban Outfitters, and Williams-Sonoma Home.

Smith's style can be seen in his two books, published by Rizzoli -- Houses and Michael Smith Elements of Style -- and he has decorated homes for such celebrities as Steven Spielberg, Cindy Crawford, Rob Reiner, and Michelle Pfeiffer. He has also styled the interiors of two hotels, Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica and the Lowell Hotel in New York City. He has designed rugs for Mansour Modern and he is also known for his work in Montecito, California-an exclusive and charming town outside of Santa Barbara that is filled with glorious estates.

Oprah Winfrey's home, "Promised Land," which was the site of a star-filled fundraiser for the Obama campaign, is located in Montecito. Photos of some of Smith's work can be seen in Domino magazine, where he said in the April 2008 issue that he "would love to decorate the White House." and we think it is fun to browse through his rooms while imagining which design elements Mrs. O and her family will be using. We know we will eventually see a photo of the sitting room, but the rest will be left to our imaginations. However, we couldn't help but notice that he often includes dog beds in his designs. Some new puppy will be very comfortable.

Tuesday
Jan132009

The Inaugural Coiffeur

You certainly don’t want to face a bad hair day when the whole world is watching you! So we completely understand Mrs. O's decision to send her long-time Chicago hairdresser, Michael “Rahni” Flowers, to do her hair for events surrounding the Inauguration. After all, he has been there for Mrs. O through major events in her life, including doing her hair for her wedding and for her Grant Park election night appearance. (For the Democratic National Convention, Mrs. O turned to Chicago-native Johnny Wright, who works at the Frederic Fekkai salon in Los Angeles.)

Flowers, who with his partner Daryl Wells owns and operates the Van Cleef Hair Studio in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, has been styling Mrs. O’s hair since she graduated from high school. The salon, staffed by multi-cultural stylists, is known for its expertise with African-American hair. Many local television anchor-women of color are also Van Cleef regulars. For years, Flowers has spent approximately two hours a week coiffing Mrs. O’s hair. He is credited with giving her the Jackie-esque flip style she often wore in the beginning of the campaign and also with the straightened bob look she has sported in more recent months.

The 53-year-old Flowers, who also styles Mrs. O’s mother’s hair, will be flying into the District of Columbia on Sunday and is scheduled to do Mrs. O’s hair and makeup for the Inauguration ceremony and the evening balls. We certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he also is recruited to do some styling for Mrs. O’s Monday evening appearance at the “Celebration for America” concert at the Kennedy Center. And might this choice of hair stylist also provide a clue about the fashion designers Mrs. O will turn to for the Inauguration? More than ever we're of the mind that Mrs. O will be staying close to home, relying on longtime and trusted collaborators such as Chicago based designer Maria Pinto.

We'll wait with bated breath for that announcement, and in the meantime, rest assured that Mrs. O's mane will be in good hands next week.

Tuesday
Jan132009

Must See Mrs. O

On the heels of last week's New York Times article, "U.S. Fashion's One Woman Bail-Out?", the Today Show ran a fantastic segment focused on Mrs. O's potential to rejuvenate the failing American fashion industry. Interviewed for the piece, Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles calls Mrs. O "her very own fashion stimulus package", while wearing the very same Thakoon Panichgul inside-out floral dress that Mrs. O wore for the first presidential debate. (A clever nod to Mrs. O that did not go unnoticed.) 

Stacy London of TLC's What Not to Wear also appears in the segment, weighing in with insightful commentary on Mrs. O's style appeal and the designers she believes our future First Lady will turn to her for her Inaugural wardrobe. Maria Pinto, Derek Lam and Jason Wu all make her list.

Speaking on the Inaugural wardrobe: A few weeks ago we wrote about The Washington Post's Inaugural Gown design contest to be judged by the esteemed fashion editor Robin Givhan. We were pleased to find that the results are in. And the winner? An emerald green dazzler, with a criss crossing bodice and flowing skirt bespoke for Mrs. O. The gown was designed by 23-year-old Philadelphia native Katie Ermilio, a budding young designer who until recently worked for Teen Vogue. 

While not judging the more than 200 designs that poured in, Givhan has been busy responding to questions and comments about Mrs. O's style from Post readers. The responses have been compiled in a transcript found here and are worth a quick scan. The issues raised overlap with comments we've seen left on this site, and Givhan's answers always offer sound perspective (and are at times very funny).

Tuesday
Jan132009

What Rosalynn Wore

 Image used with the kind permission of the Jimmy Carter Library

Over 30 years ago, First Lady Rosalynn Carter shocked the fashion world with her inauguration gown. Why? Was it too daring? Was the color too bold or too flat? The dress too revealing? Was it designed by a non-American designer? None of the above, in fact. Mrs. Carter wore a "repeat," which by some fashion standards is the worst offense of all. 

The event was the 1977 inauguration ball for her husband Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Carter announced that for "sentimental reasons" she would don the same blue chiffon gown she had worn six years before at the Carters' gubernatorial ball in Atlanta, Georgia. To add a little context: As Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency, the country was in a flat-out recession. Unemployment rates were high and so were gas prices. There were long lines at gas stations, particularly to fill up the tanks of RVs that were so popular then. But did Mrs. Carter take her economizing too far by recycling a six-year-old gown?

The flowing ice blue dress was designed by Marie Matise, who created many high-end dresses for Jason's, an exclusive dress shop in Americus, Georgia. To update the ensemble for the Presidential inauguration, Mrs. Carter added a full-length ice blue evening vest embroidered in gold. The vest (for some reason, it was often described at the time as a cape-perhaps because a cape sounds more festive and romantic than a vest) was created by Dominic Rompollo, a New York designer who also fashioned Mrs. Carter's daytime inauguration outfit (an understated wool dress and matching coat in a blue-green color that Rompollo christened "Rosalynn green").

The fashion community was not pleased with the use of a repeat gown, particularly for such a high wattage evening. In spite of the sagging economy, it dubbed Mrs. Carter's frugal approach a genuine gaffe. This got us wondering if Mrs. O might ponder recycling one of her former gowns on January 20th? Economically, the times are rocky. And we know she isn't afraid to create her own fashion path. Might she do it again? Is there a sentimental favorite gown lurking in her past? After all, she does have one of the most versatile and admired closets in the country.

Sunday
Jan112009

What Lies Ahead: Hope for the Fashion Industry?

Michelle Obama

Image used with kind permission from Glennia Campbell and Momocrats

Can Mrs. O revive a flagging fashion industry? Certainly, the hopes of American designers, merchandisers, and fashion journalists are riding high on the possibility. With Macy's closing 11 stores in nine states and with various established designers (Vera Wang, Carmen Marc Valvo, Betsey Johnson) pulling out of the Bryant Park fashion tents in February's New York Fashion Week, there is no doubt that fashion is flagging.

"Michelle Obama is already incredibly influential," Sally Singer, Vogue's Fashion News Director, tells us. "There is an immediate buzz in the fashion world. She motivates people to think about wearing something that looks beautiful, regardless of the price point." For the fashion industry, it might be coming just in the nick of time.

Last Thursday, Chicago shoppers lined up in the sub-freezing temperatures, waiting for the doors to open at the Maria Pinto boutique. It was the first sample sale there since the election and the occasion brought both established Pinto customers as well as many newcomers who wanted to purchase part of a brand made famous by Mrs. O. Sales ranged from $25 suede bustiers to $75 casual wraps to $500 party dresses. 

Coincidentally, the same day the New York Times ran a story titled, "U.S. Fashion's One-Woman Bailout?," which discussed Mrs. O's penchant for high-low dressing and her ability to create shopping frenzies (both the $148 White House/Black Market black print dress from The View and her Tonight Show  J. Crew yellow cardigan sweater and silk printed blouse and skirt sold out in less than 48 hours after she appeared in them).

"With flashcard clarity [during the campaign], she signaled an interest both in looking stylish and also in advancing the cause of American fashion and those who design and make it," wrote NYT writer Guy Trebay. The article praised her fit, athletic figure, her sense of making clothes work for her needs, and, according to one subject interviewed, "her very conservative, jock-preppy....safe American WASP way of dressing." Hmm, we would beg to differ a bit on that last point.

Yes, the J. Crew outfits she wore in southern states during the campaign (printed cotton skirts with matching T-shirts and cardigans) could fall into a preppy category. And yes, her puffer coat (which she just wore again Saturday night when the family visited the Lincoln Memorial) could be described as somewhat jock-athletic. But who would call the black and red Narcisco Rodriguez Election Night dress "safe"? Or by what stretch would the clothes she wore at the Democratic Convention (Thakoon, Moschino, Peter Soronen) be considered "conservative"?

One of Mrs. O's most intriguing style approaches is her ability to mix up her look-wearing flats with sheaths, tossing shrunken cardigans over beaded dresses, using jewelry in unexpected ways. All of that is a major break with the fashion sense of past First Ladies and other public women, whom we have been used to seeing in complete matching ensembles off the designer rack. In the photo shown at the top, taken in October 2008, we see Mrs. O in a look that is beautiful yet unusual for her: wearing a black-on-black fitted suit jacket and top. The buttons on both the jacket and the top are the same fade-to-black color as the fabric. Even the necklace (we wonder if it is oxidized sterling silver beads by jewelry designer Tom Binns-perhaps part of his Couture Tough Chic collection?) falls into the same color family, offering tonal sheen to this dark outfit. It is one more new spin on a standard look from Mrs. O.

With her fresh approach to clothes, maybe she shouldn't worry about the hopes of the fashion industry. Maybe she just needs to keep dressing for herself. And the rest will follow.