| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Feb 16 First lady Michelle Obama is
widely hailed as a fashion icon, but industry insiders say
she's quite the opposite, and that's a good thing.
A fashion icon would have an eye-catching signature look
and, while the president's wife has the power to set trends,
her appeal is refreshingly not so defined and deliberate, said
fashion observers at the semi-annual Fashion Week in New York,
where designers are showing their Fall 2009 collections.
Michelle Obama "is more real than iconic," said David
Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, which forecasts
trends. "She doesn't have a locked-in fashion look. She
experiments, which is what fashion is about these days."
References to Obama, 45, as an icon of fashion are
everywhere. Thin and statuesque, the attorney and mother of two
graces the cover of Vogue magazine's March issue.
She wins lavish attention from designers, editors and
stylists. Stores quickly sell out of the clothes she wears.
While Obama's style merits praise, she is not in the ranks
of such icons as actress Katharine Hepburn, with her tailored
menswear, or Jacqueline Kennedy with her pillbox hats and
wide-frame sunglasses, said Helen Job, a trend forecaster with
WGSN, a fashion research and analysis firm.
"When you think about a fashion icon, it's somebody who has
this ability to influence the public to such a degree ... to
change the direction (a style) is going in," she said.
Kennedy's sense of style would be out of place among women
today, said Wolfe.
"Jackie Kennedy was locked into the Jackie Kennedy look and
never stepped out of it. That was great, but it certainly isn't
the way modern women dress," he said.
Obama wears clothes by little-known designers and
mid-priced chains such as J Crew Group Inc JCG.N, helping
dispose of the idea that first ladies always must look formal.
"She's really set this new guideline, and I feel like the
White House will never be the same after this somehow," said
Gloria Baume, fashion director for Teen Vogue.
Jason Wu, the young designer of Obama's white inaugural gown
and the magenta dress she wears in Vogue, credits the first
lady with reinvigorating the industry.
"In her own way, she is like a stimulus package for the
fashion industry," Wu said.
Few first ladies deserved the title as fashion icons, said
Mandi Norwood, a former magazine editor writing a book on
"We've been trying desperately to promote the first lady
into fashion icon status, but I'm not sure any of them have
truly deserved that title," she said.
Obama does have some company in U.S. history, said Lisa
Kathleen Graddy, curator of "The First Ladies at the
Frances Cleveland's clothes and hairstyle were copied and
commented upon, and advertisers used her to sell products she
had never seen or used. The Victorian-era bustle even fell out
of U.S. fashion when it was reported she would no longer wear
the rear-enhancing gowns.
Another fashionable first lady was Grace Coolidge, who is
considered to have popularized fashion, said Graddy.
Grover Cleveland was president in the late 1800s. Calvin
Coolidge served in the 1920s.
(Additional reporting by Christine Kearney in New York and
Alexandria Sage in San Francisco; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst
and Philip Barbara)