While Michelle Obama's inaugural wardrobe was debated on blogs and in office talk, no one could deny that her unconventional choices have brought a much-needed jolt to the beleaguered fashion industry.
Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton picked Oscar de la Renta to create their inaugural gowns. But in lieu of American powerhouses who might have also included Donna Karan or Ralph Lauren, Obama chose fresh new faces.
Jason Wu, 26
Background: Wu, a native of Taiwan, designed and customized Barbie dolls in high school. His “Jason Wu doll” became a collector's item. With profits from doll sales, he launched a clothing line three years ago. His designs are ladylike with an edge and often feature such touches as French-knot embroidery and Swarovski crystals.
Obama connection: At the invitation of Ikram, Wu created three gowns for Obama. She chose a one-shoulder, white chiffon gown adorned with Swarvoski crystals and ruched detailing. But she didn't tell him in advance. “I found out when the whole world found out,” Wu told USmagazine.com. “I said, ‘It looks white. It looks like mine.' I had a box of pizza, and it nearly fell over. I was sitting there with my friends, and they were screaming.”
Isabel Toledo, 47
Background: The Cuban-born Toledo worked for more than 25 years on her own before she was named creative director of Anne Klein in 2006. Her collections drew praise, but she was let go a few months after unveiling the spring 2007 collection when the company discontinued its high-end line. She now has a small design business. An expert seamstress, Toledo is known for meticulous construction and intricate pattern shapes.
Obama connection: Obama signaled she was a big fan when she wore a Toledo-designed black tunic and palazzo pants to a fashion industry fundraiser for her husband in New York last June. For the swearing-in ceremony, Toledo designed a lemongrass-hued sheath with rhinestone-like embellishment along the collar, plus a matching coat.
Narciso Rodriguez, 47
Background: This Cuban American first entered the spotlight in 1996 when he designed a bias-cut sheath wedding dress for the late Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, who was a friend. Rodriguez's designs are architectural, with clean lines, virtually no embellishment and lots of geometric cutouts.
Obama connection: She often wears Rodriguez designs. On the Sunday before the inauguration, she wore two Rodriguez outfits: a plum dress to church in the morning and a black-lined camel coat with a camel skirt, a black silk beaded top and a scarf to the We Are One concert.
Mickey Drexler, 64
Background: Forced out at the Gap in 2002, Drexler assumed the top job at J. Crew the next year. He has made the retailer a force again by offering popular “preppy with an edge” styles.
Obama connection: She wore a yellow J. Crew cardigan on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno last fall, bragging that she bought it online. For Monday's Kids Inaugural concert, she wore an olive cashmere cardigan, a metallic lace shell and a blue pencil skirt specially designed for her by J. Crew. She also wore a pair of the company's olive gloves to the swearing-in ceremonies. Her daughters wore custom-made coats by the J. Crew Crewcuts division.