If there was ever any doubt that First Lady Michelle Obama is an incredibly important player in the American fashion industry, the fact that the Council of Fashion Designers of America released an official statement about one of her outfits should clear it up.
Diane von Furstenberg, the Council’s president, wrote in a statement to WWD that the organization was “surprised and a little disappointed” not to be represented at the state dinner held for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week. Instead of wearing an American designer as expected, Obama wore a red and black Alexander McQueen dress that we here at Styleite — and a healthy portion of other fashion sites — couldn’t help but gush over.
But American fashion designers (and Oscar de la Renta chief among them), could. By and large they would have preferred for her to have showcased an American-designed dress at this dinner, an especially important event for American business and trade with China.
We understand the frustrations of American designers who might have felt passed over when Obama chose a British dress instead of an American one. But if the CFDA is concerned about the future of fashion as an American business, shouldn’t the organization be more worried about where the first lady’s clothes are made than who designed them? If American designers produce their clothes in China (or Malaysia, or the Philippines, or Italy or France), and not in the United States, the economic impact of the first lady wearing such a garment will find its way back to those countries before we see it here at home. If those businesses invest the money the first lady’s endorsement generates in a manufacturing operation in another country, what good does it actually do for America?
Moreover, should the first lady be obligated to lift a finger for American industry at all? Steven Kolb, the CFDA’s executive director, says yes and no.
“Mrs. Obama is the First Lady, but she’s also an individual and she’s a woman,” Kolb told WWD. “She’s going to dress in clothes that she looks good in and that she feels comfortable in. I don’t think she’s making a statement by not wearing someone. She’s just choosing clothes as a woman.”
“I believe one has individual choice and preferences,” he said. “For the President and First Lady, part of that is spotlighting America, American jobs, American industry, American innovation. She can do that.”
All of the attention may have bullied Obama into wearing a somewhat ill-fitting Rachel Roy dress at President Obama‘s State of the Union address last night. But we don’t like the idea that a woman as powerful as Michelle Obama can be bullied by anyone — not even the most powerful organization in American fashion.
At the end of the day, the first lady really hasn’t insulted American designers — most of her wardrobe is designed by CFDA-approved clothiers, and she generates millions in sales for American brands every time she steps in front of a camera. Even if she wasn’t willing to be such a vocal spokeswoman for so many American artists, she’d have the undeniable right to wear whatever she thinks suits her best. Even at a state dinner with China.
CFDA Chimes in on Debate About Michelle Obama’s McQueen Dress [WWD (Subscription Required)]
Michelle Obama Goes All-American For State Of The Union [Styleite]
Should The First Lady Dress For Fashion Or For Country? [Styleite]
Oscar de la Renta Was Not Happy Michelle Wore McQueen [Styleite]
Michelle Obama Wears Alexander McQueen To State Dinner![Styleite]