x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Style slip-up after a well-heeled campaign

Comment Michelle Obama needs to put her own stamp on Camelot.

Michelle Obama waves from the stage at the election night victory rally, in fashion-forward Narciso Rodriguez.
Michelle Obama waves from the stage at the election night victory rally, in fashion-forward Narciso Rodriguez.

Michelle Obama learnt the first lesson of being a first lady on the stage at Grant Park in Chicago on election night: do not wear high fashion in front of the eyes of the world. Having pulled off a nearly faultless election wardrobe bursting with colour (which is current), classic tailoring (equally so) and some punchy gimmicks such as gobstopper pearls and bold prints, the fashionista-elect blew it overnight.

Instead of sticking to the upmarket dressmaker Maria Pinto, who created Obama's classiest frock to date - the sleeveless purple silk crepe shift worn to accompany her husband to mark his victory over Hillary Clinton - Mrs O chose an artsy "experiment" by an edgy young designer renowned for his must-see catwalk shows but not always for his frocks. The visually arresting red and black tube dress, despite being a "standout" at Narciso Rodriguez's spring/summer 2009 New York show, did Mrs Obama no favours; certainly not with fashion critics.

It revealed not only how poorly a runway size zero scales up to a more realistic size - especially from the rear - but also that Mrs Obama, unlike her husband, might not be the snappy dresser we thought she was. At 44 and the youngest wife of a president since Jacqueline Kennedy, Obama was sure to draw comparisons. The new first lady even flirted with them, wearing style details made famous by her predecessor - Peter Pan collars, pearls, three-quarter length sleeves, A-line dresses and so on.

What the next first lady needs to do now is put her own stamp on the new Camelot, starting with her image. She has demonstrated over the past 18 months how extraordinarily glamorous her athletic build and curvy shape can look. And as any woman with hips will tell you, this is not easy. It does not necessarily mean giving up entirely on fashion, just fashion with a capital "f". A lesson she can learn from Jackie Kennedy, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is this: set your own style, then you create the fashion.