As Mrs O picks up the Boden catalogue, could there be a return of the special relationship between Britain and the US?
Wellies for all? Yes we can
The British press has not had much of cheer to report recently. A ruinous recession, a political crisis over the unethical expenses claims of MPs and another damp spring have left the public feeling somewhat battered, to say the least. Perhaps that's why, in an explosion of self-congratulatory delight, the papers leapt on the ostensibly unremarkable news that Michelle Obama has requested a copy of the Boden catalogue.
What, you may ask if you're not a middle-class Brit, is Boden? It's a home-shopping fashion range, available for delivery to the UAE at www.boden.co.uk. But it's not just any fashion range. Somehow, in the company's 18 years of existence, Boden clothes have come to represent the country's public-school-educated, bucolic-fantasy-loving, organic-kelp-munching, Range-Rover-driving, baby-yoga-attending posh liberal families more than almost any other class indicator.
The company launched as a tiny menswear concern in 1991 by the old Etonian Johnnie Boden, and the irreverent tone of the catalogues and post-Sloane appeal of the clothes have turned it into a £168 million (Dh957 million) business that encompasses menswear, womenswear, Mini Boden kidswear and Baby Boden. While 28 per cent of sales so far this year have been to the US, the archetypal Boden shopper would be a yummy mummy who lives in London's leafy suburb of Hampstead. She holidays with her strapping husband and two children in the chichi bit chilly coastal town of Southwold, shops at farmers' markets and Waitrose, totes a Bugaboo push chair and wears brightly coloured wellies to the park (as do those beautiful, terribly well-mannered sprogs).
The clothes are affordable, well made (adored by devotees for washing brilliantly), brightly coloured, quirky and undeniably stylish in a kooky Brit kind of way (think floral appliqués on women's skirts, Hawaiian shirts for boys, colourful cotton dresses for girls, striped rugby tops for the chaps and wellies for all). Think of it as JCrew with a touch of English upper-crust heartiness. It is, then, a pretty perfect fit for the Obamas - a first family with a popularity and statesmanship that the UK parliament can only dream of, which is probably why the British have got so excited about the whole thing. The Obamas may be from the wrong side of the pond (which they can't help, after all), but their lifestyle is classic Boden: the dashing husband and father (powerful job but likes nothing more than some sporty downtime - albeit with golf in Hawaii, not sailing off Suffolk); the adored and adoring mother, strong, intelligent, stylish and devoted to her family; the beautiful daughters, vivacious, mischievous but oh-so polite; and, of course, the household dog. That's fashion synergy, and if poor old Britain can't rely on the current crop of politicians to reinvigorate the two countries' mythical special relationship, perhaps Johnnie Boden is the man for the job. And with her famous sense of style, Michelle Obama is the woman.