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The Problem With Michelle Obama’s Secret Styling Operative

Anna Sui, spring 2009.

Many of Michelle Obama's clothes come from the Ikram boutique in Chicago. She is unique as a First Lady in that she does not technically have a stylist; however much of what she wears — from her inaugural outfits to the clothes for her Vogue shoot — filter through Ikram's owner, Ikram Goldman. Goldman requests clothes from the designers for Michelle, and designers are kept in the dark about whether their outfits will be worn until Michelle wears them. Arnold Scaasi, who has dressed First Ladies since Mamie Eisenhower, told the New York Times he couldn't recall a time when designers had no direct access to the White House. Jason Wu's gown, for example, was requested by Goldman, who told Wu his gown would be donated to the Smithsonian should Michelle choose it. He made the gown with that understanding and — shockingly — didn't even get paid for it.

Designers are hesitant to talk to reporters about working with Goldman because they're afraid of losing business. With no guidance from the White House, they don't know where their boundaries are. Also problematic: If the designers have no direct access to the First Lady, how are her clothes to truly fit well? Scaasi thought Michelle's white Wu frock wasn't "flattering in any way" because it fit too loosely. And if you can have the designer come fit you personally for your history-making fashion moment, why not do it?

Even worse, having a retailer as a stylist is a conflict of interest for Michelle. Goldman, who declined to talk to Cathy Horyn for her article, would naturally want to promote the designers she sells. If she is essentially styling Michelle, arguably the biggest influence on fashion in this country, if not the world, right now, she could be keeping her from a wealth of designers and options. Oscar de la Renta submitted twelve sketches to Goldman for the inauguration but never heard back from her. Goldman consulted with Michelle about her Vogue shoot, but wasn't at the sitting, according to a Vogue spokesman. The inauguration and the Vogue shoot were two huge opportunities for designers to gain exposure, and Goldman probably had a heavy hand in both. She's like Rachel Zoe without the catchphrases. And the world doesn't need more than one Rachel Zoe.

We are thrilled for all the young designers Michelle has brought into the spotlight, like Wu and Thakoon. But Michelle has four years — she's got to branch out to other stores for the sake of the fashion industry not connected to Ikram. Just think of what she could do for retail! She's a walking stimulus package of no cost to taxpayers. Maybe what she really needs is a lesson from Beyoncé in working it.

Behind the First Lady, a Shadow Stylist [NYT]

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved. The Cut® are registered trademarks of New York Media LLC.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC.
All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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