The front of the New York Times Sunday Styles section was dominated by a towering photo of First Lady Michelle Obama regally presiding adjacent a hagiography by Bee-Shyuan Chang, “Wooing the First Dresser – American fashion’s most influential customer may the one far from any show this week.”
The supposedly hard-news Times has long fawned over Michelle Obama the fashion plate, who “has become a powerful trendsetter in fashion,” and her high-end, high-cost dresses while forgoing the usual liberal sniffing about such conspicuous consumption during a recession. Fashion writer Eric Wilson on April 15, 2010 called her “the First Lady of Fashion,” and Guy Trebay called her “U.S. Fashion's One-Woman Bailout" in a January 8, 2009 story.
Bee-Shuyan Chang talks to a cavalcade of designers equally eager to suck up to the "stylish, risk-taking first lady."
The designers Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs, known professionally as Cushnie et Ochs, have been critical darlings ever since starting their business in 2009, just a few years out of college. They have been prominently featured in WWD and Vogue, have won prestigious honors, like the Ecco Domani Foundation Award, and were one of 10 finalists for last year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award.
But even with that acclaim, they were still having trouble getting some prominent retailers to buy their clothes or even grant them a showing.
Then Michelle Obama was photographed in one of their designs: a forest-green crepe dress for the “Christmas in Washington” television special in December.
Suddenly, their phone calls were being returned. “Stores that thought we were too risqué before have booked market appointments after seeing Michelle Obama in our dress,” Ms. Cushnie, 28, said in a recent phone interview. After a quick tally, she later e-mailed, “We booked approximately 25 additional appointments for the upcoming fall collection, including Harvey Nichols Hong Kong.”
For many promising young designers showing at New York Fashion Week, their most important potential client won’t be in the front rows at Lincoln Center, but perhaps at home in the White House. There is arguably no more powerful influence in American fashion today than the country’s stylish, risk-taking first lady.
[Designer Alexis] Bittar said he was struck quite recently by how the first lady has become a powerful trendsetter in fashion. “I was looking at the M.L.K. picture of her the other night with my boyfriend,” he said, referring to Mrs. Obama’s wardrobe over the Martin Luther King Birthday weekend, which included a body-skimming black dress with portrait neckline one night and a scarlet J. Mendel organza gown the next. “I said to him: ‘Can you believe this is the first lady? She looks incredible.’”