News flash: The American fashion industry is in trouble. Consumer confidence is at its lowest in decades, stores are closing rapidly, and it's hard to think of brands not laying people off or cost cutting. When Michelle Obama steps into the role of First Lady on January 20, how much can she help? The New York Times "Style" section devotes a lengthy article to this question, which many experts answered only vaguely. Vogue editor Hamish Bowles offered, “My perception is that she’s already had an extremely potent effect” on the business. Has she? Let's review:
• Michelle inspired a shopping frenzy at White House Black Market after she wore one of their $148 dresses on The View.
• She showed the world money doesn't buy style when she wore an H&M dress at a campaign rally in Detroit.
• She made up-and-coming designer Thakoon Panichgul a veritable fashion star when she wore one of his dresses at the Democratic National Convention.
• She made Maria Pinto a household name, wearing her creations at the DNC and on her visit to the White House after the election.
• Jason Wu entered the spotlight when Michelle wore one of his dresses on the Barbara Walters Special. He's now expanding his line.
• The Narciso Rodriguez dress she wore on Election Night inspired fierce living-room debates across the nation.
• J.Crew's Website saw a 64 percent traffic spike the day after Michelle wore the label on the Tonight Show.
If she's been this influential before taking up residence in the White House, imagine what could happen when she moves in. It's obvious she'll continue being enormously influential, inspiring legions of women to dress like her as so many First Ladies have before. But can that help the economy? Maybe. She not only enhances the prominence of American high-fashion designers, but labels that normal people like you and us can afford. And in this difficult economic time, it's the J.Crew's and H&Ms of the world that people are shopping at most. According to market analysts, labels like these are poised to steal consumers away from the luxury market over the next couple of years.
We can't wait to see what Michelle will wear on Inauguration day. Maybe she'll go Über-recession chic and wear a ball gown that's already hanging in her closet. You never know with her, and that's what's so exciting.