First Lady Michelle Obama again picks inaugural gown by Jason Wu


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Who knew it would be Wu (again)?

Inauguration Day turned into Groundhog Day when first lady Michelle Obama stepped out at the Commander-in-Chief's Ball in a gown by Jason Wu and shoes by Jimmy Choo, both designers she wore for the 2009 inaugural ball.

The flowing fiery ruby gown with chiffon overlay and halter-style straps that pulled back into a plunging V back punctuated two days of otherwise subdued hues for Mrs. Obama. She accessorized the look with a ring by Kimberly McDonald. The pop of patriotic color was a welcomed way to cap festivities.

It was a bit surprising that Mrs. Obama, known for often favoring the underdog with her fashion choices, rekindled her relationship with Mr. Wu, who is by no means an underdog any longer. When Mrs. Obama wore his white one-shoulder gown in 2009, Mr. Wu was a little-known designer in his mid-20s. Virtually overnight he became a household name -- one that has since adorned ready-to-wear clothes made exclusively for Target and Nordstrom, as well as his own high-end women's lines. Many speculated she would tap another up-and-comer, or go with someone different but already well established. (Naeem Khan was one considered in the running.)

The first lady kicked off the two-day fashion foray Sunday with a rich blue shift dress and matching cardigan from American designer Reed Krakoff, president and executive creative director for Coach. The choice was suitable for the simplicity of the brief private ceremony (and coordinated well with its Blue Room location). Mrs. Obama has worn Mr. Krakoff's designs in the past, including a nearly $1,000 teal blue tote that blogs buzzed quickly sold out after she was photographed with it. (Interestingly, Ann Romney was criticized for wearing an almost equally expensive $990 Reed Krakoff tee during her husband's presidential campaign.)

Public inauguration festivities began Monday with Mrs. Obama sticking to darks with a navy silk dress and coat by Allentown native Thom Browne, whose past accolades include the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Menswear Designer of the Year award and a collaboration with Brooks Brothers.

The tailored coat's checkered pattern was inspired by a man's necktie. She complemented the understated look with a J. Crew belt and a necklace by Cathy Waterman. Daughters Malia and Sasha, who have budded into mini fashionistas in their own rights, wore a magenta J. Crew ensemble (a nod to Mrs. Obama's bold gloves) and lilac Kate Spade coat, respectively.

Given that the Obamas have been through this all before, the first lady's less-is-more approach to her wardrobe seemed appropriate. (In fact, some fashion bloggers were encouraging her to wear clothes the public had already seen, given the state of the economy and that it was the second inauguration.) But why so much fuss over fashion? This was, after all, an inauguration, not the Emmys.

She is a fashion icon in the way that people remember Jacqueline Kennedy or Grace Kelly, says David Yermack, professor of finance at the New York University Stern School of Business.

Mr. Yermack researched the correlation between the labels Mrs. Obama wears and shifts in their stocks. For the study, he consulted fashion blogs to track which designers she wore and when. He then linked them to the parent company of the designer and, if they were public companies, reviewed the stock prices right after Mrs. Obama wore their labels. For 189 public appearances between November 2008 and December 2009, he found that she generated about $2.7 billion in value for the companies whose clothes she sported.

"The effects are very strong," he says. "If she wears a garment on a given day, the stock price moves pretty significantly."

One instance was when the first lady wore a gold Calvin Klein dress when her husband accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Right after, parent company Phillips-Van Heusen "had enormous appreciation of their stock," he says.

"If you look at people who catch the attention of the public ... people lose interest," he says, also noting that the fashions of other politicians' wives haven't stirred the same degree of interest because they tend to stick to one designer or wear clothes that are out of the average person's price range. "I had expected with Mrs. Obama that the fashion thing would quiet down. ... But it hasn't at all. If anything, it has continued to build."

Meanwhile, what about those new bangs? Love them or leave them? The majority of people who voted in the Post-Gazette's online poll want her to don her old side sweep 'do again. Like the cliche goes, if it's not broken, don't fix it.

lifestyle - fashion

Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com.


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