Last week, Michelle Obama and her husband hosted a state dinner for the Chinese Prime Minister. For the evening, Obama chose a red gown with a black floral pattern designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. It was a beautiful dress in a traditional design, especially by McQueen’s standards. The color, most presumed, was an homage to China. The choice, however, was a slap in the face to American designers, at least according to the CFDA, Oscar de la Renta, and fashion’s publication of record, WWD — all of whom Cathy Horyn takes to task in her column for today’s New York Times.
The dress received plenty of press both last week and this week, but it was WWD‘s coverage which Horyn likened to a “witch hunt.” The paper, she writes, “is trying to shame Mrs. Obama for her sin of wearing fashion by a non-American designer to the state dinner for China on Jan. 19.”
Horyn makes the same case we did after Obama chose to wear American designer Rachel Roy‘s dress to the State of the Union: if WWD and the CFDA are trying to make a case for American fashion, they should be encouraging Michelle to wear designers who manufacture in America — as, indeed, Mr. de la Renta does.
But I’m afraid the C.F.D.A., while wanting to act like a family, really represents individuals with very different interests. The truth is many of its members, including its president, Diane Von Furstenberg, manufacture a significant portion of their clothes outside the United States, mainly in Asia. Why wasn’t that mentioned in the WWD articles? The only explanation I have is that the C.F.D.A. has nothing to gain from being straightforward. But, apparently, it has everything to gain by goading the first lady into wearing American labels.
All of which is to say that making a strong case for Obama’s patronage of American designers doesn’t allow for much nuance; in other words, it doesn’t benefit the CFDA to discriminate among its members. But the bottom line, as Justin wrote in his post on Wednesday, is that Michelle Obama has no obligation to act as a walking billboard for the CFDA.
In the past she has made what seem to be considered choices that favor young or unknown designers, wearing a bright blue Peter Soronen dress to the state dinner for Mexico. Maybe she had planned to wear a different dress on Jan. 19, but at the last minute switched to the McQueen. That’s her right.
Michelle Obama is an incredibly intelligent woman who no doubt has made her public opinions and endorsements — such as her campaign against childhood obesity — with careful thought and planning. And while some would like to assume that her sartorial decisions are (and should be) made with the same deliberation, sometimes a dress is just that: a dress.
About That McQueen Dress [NYT]