I love Vera Wang. As I type this, I'm wearing a silver-white, floor-length nightgown by the designer, an impulse purchase made a few years back (it was on sale!). It's got a smidgen of black-lace piping at the bodice and shoulder straps nearly as thin as dental floss. It's simple and elegant and doesn't make any noise when I slip out of it and let it drop to the floor—which I might have to do soon because I'm pissed at Wang. It's why I recently decided to pair my gorgeous nightie with my husband's hideous UGG slippers.
Earlier this month, as Michelle Obama toured Europe in garb designed by various no-names, mixed with pieces from the J. Crew Collection, Wang joined the voices of elite designers whining about being snubbed by the magnetic first lady.
“I love seeing young designers and their vision and how they grow and all of that,” Wang said in an April 2 story in Women's Wear Daily, as if it's so quaint to be an up-and-comer. “On the other hand, of course, I wish she would consider some of us, because I think we also have contributions to make.”
In the same story, Oscar de la Renta—a Laura Bush favorite—practically swooned with the vapors when Obama wore a sweater to meet the queen. “You don't… go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater.” Oy! The nerve of a girl with working-class roots who dares to wear some anonymously stitched schmatte.
With her WWD article, writer Bridget Foley provides these upper-echelon designers with a bullhorn and a runway-shaped pulpit from which to air their grievances.
“I hope and believe that this is just a moment,” offers Donna Karan. The successful designer hopes “to be able to dress her, and not only dress her but address her, sit down—I'm interested in her totality as a woman.” Obviously, Michelle choosing the clothes of more obscure, struggling designers doesn't already exemplify her totality-ness.
Foley's piece is accompanied by an image of a model in Ralph Lauren, with Michelle Obama's head Photoshopped onto it, illustrating how much better the FLOTUS would look if only she had the expert guidance of the establishment. And no hips. And a size zero waist. And skinny white legs.
The article highlights the elitism of both the already-arrived designers and the fashion industry. I heard the author's voice in my head as a faux Hepburn-style drawl pointing out that Mrs. Obama could—nay, should—help the ailing fashion industry, which is in crisis “[l]ike the auto and financial industries.”
Rather than opting for clothes by unknown designers like Jason Wu and Isabel Toledo, Foley sneers, Obama should choose “major players—those whose collective vicissitudes play into the economy in a considerable way and whose individual swings of fortune impact the lives of countless working people up and down the supply chain.” Anyway, if she can't knock it off with the altruism toward unknown artists, she could at least support the GOP proposal of sweeping tax cuts for the wealthy. Surely this gesture would show her compassion for the most prestigious of the rebuffed industry folks, people like “Ralph, Calvin, Oscar, Marc, Vera, Tommy and Isaac.” I admit it: I had the urge to thwack the writer upside her Hérmes-wrapped, name-dropping head with my Mizrahi-for-Target hobo bag.
Citing the almost immediate sell-out of the beaded J.Crew cardigan Obama wore in London, Foley asked, “might not a chic sighting of the First Lady in Ralph Lauren or Donna Karan prod some women to stroll through Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus?” Some women? Mmm-hmm. But not the everyday woman, and that, I think, is Obama's point.
Foley lives in a parallel universe if she thinks the women who wander the halls of Saks or Neiman are going to be what saves the industry. The fact of the matter is more women can afford J. Crew (and knockoffs) than the alternative, and many of those who can afford designer labels are opting for the cheaper options if only because it's hip to be thrifty.What Foley seems to not understand is that Michelle Obama is practicing what she preaches. The economy is circling the drain, and Obama's realism is a salve for working people who can no longer afford (if they ever really could in the first place) the lifestyle that WWD is peddling.
“I think I understand what [Obama and her advisers] are doing,” de la Renta told Foley. “But I don't think that is the right message at this particular point….” But it's exactly the right message at this particular point. Americans would surely be making more noise than a few miffed designers if Michelle Obama embraced the expensive and gaudy let-them-eat-cake tastes of Cindy McCain. We rejected the ostentatious, frozen-faced, stiff-haired first lady model last November. Outfits that cost an AIG bonus would not quell the current wave of populist outrage, and Michelle Obama knows this.
What's more is that her effort is not contrived. Sure, it's mindful of the times in which we live, but it's also appropriate for who she is: A strong, independent, risk-taking, fit, sexy, smart, self-confident woman who isn't afraid to dress like the commoners.
Or get dirty like them. Last Thursday, she appeared covered in dirt in the White House garden. And while Vera Wang might gasp at house slippers worn with one of her negligées, I'd be willing to bet she'd need smelling salts if her $1,100 Sequined Shoulder Tank and $800 Narrow Pants had to withstand earthworm juice.
I hope Obama will ignore the crocodile tears of the fashion-industry heavies and continue to go her own way, showing her awesome arms and supporting the new kids on the block. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.