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NEW YORK — All ears were listening to US President-elect Barack Obama’s victory speech this week but fashion-watchers were looking closely at his wife Michelle’s dress — and the verdict was not so good.
Michelle Obama, wife of US president-elect Barack Obama, and Jill Biden, wife of US vice-president-elect Joe Biden, walk on stage during their election night victory rally. — AFP Despite comparisons during the campaign to stylish 1960s first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Michelle Obama was derided in opinion polls for her choice of a black and neon-red dress from Narciso Rodriguez’s spring 2009 ready-to-wear collection.
In an online poll by USA Today, 65% of more than 10,000 readers believed the Harvard-educated corporate lawyer and future first lady “had an off day” and 35% said “She looks fantastic as always.” An online poll by People magazine mirrored those results, while a Los Angeles Times online poll found 45% hated the dress and 34% loved it.
“The normally impeccable Michelle O made a questionable choice for her husband’s historic election night victory,” wrote Lesley Scott, editor of fashion and lifestyle blog www.fashiontribes.com. “It’s less than flattering.”
“However, every fashionista worth her salt takes risks,” Ms. Scott said, “which means the occasional misstep.”
Not everyone disliked Ms. Obama’s choice, which was shown on the catwalk only two months ago and is not yet available in stores. New York magazine hailed Ms. Obama for being able to hold her own against France’s first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a former supermodel.
“We have a feeling she’ll continue to mix affordable pieces with designer pieces as First Lady, but this wardrobe choice proves this woman knows fashion and we have an exciting four years of political fashion ahead of us,” the magazine said. “What will she choose for the inaugural ball? The suspense is so exciting! And you know what else is great about this? We don’t have to envy France for Carla Bruni anymore!”“That dress was unpretentious,” Julie Gilhart, fashion director of New York’s top-price Barneys clothing store, told the Times. “It said, ’Be who you are — don’t let someone else tell you how to be.’”
The Italian daily La Stampa dubbed the dress “the look of victory” and said the black symbolized mourning for Obama’s grandmother, who died on the eve of the election, while the red was for passion.
A contributor to the Web site of the German newsweekly Focus also suggested there was hidden meaning in the colors, perhaps red for the political left and black for the first African-American to win the US presidency.
“It is more about the symbolic effect of the color combination red/black. Because the daughters were also in red or black. Very unusual and surely no accident,” the reader said.Others were dismissive, describing the subject as superficial besides the historic importance of Barack Obama’s election win.
“The USA must be doing pretty well if it is worrying about the First Lady’s dress!” one typical Focus posting said.
Interest in Obama’s fashion has soared since she won particular praise for the purple sheath dress and black belt she wore in June when her husband clinched the nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.
While Republican candidate John McCain’s wife Cindy and his vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin drew criticism for their high-end wardrobes, Ms. Obama won fans for affordable style. Ms. Obama wore a $150 dress on The View talk show, which became an instant hit. For The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, she donned an outfit from chain store J.Crew.
She has even inspired a Web site — http://www.mrs-o.org — dedicated to taking “a regular look at what and who she’s wearing” and encouraging enthusiasm for “the budding style icon, Mrs O.”
Ms. Obama already has a fashion track record, appearing in Vogue and being named twice on Vanity Fair’s international best-dressed list.