Who’s Really Dressing Michelle Obama?

Despite what she might tell the press about picking her own clothes, we all know First Lady Michelle Obama simply does not have the time to construct her own wardrobe. (Don’t believe us? You try to squeeze in some time at Saks while raising two daughters, running several national health and wellness initiatives and telling the president he can’t have any cigarettes.) So who helps the fashion industry’s most closely watched power dresser get ready for every public appearance? The answer depends on who you ask.

According to a story from The Washington Post, it’s a coin toss between Ikram Goldman, who owns the eponymous Chicago boutique where Obama shopped before she was first lady, and Meredith Koop, a Goldman employee who was dispatched to Washington to be Obama’s personal assistant when she moved in to The White House.

For a while, the story says, that was the arrangement. Goldman ran the show from her store in Chicago while Koop took care of Obama in person. But then their roles started to get muddled, and Koop is said to have taken things into her own hands.

Koop has aggressively courted emerging designers and set up a system in which they send clothes on spec directly to the White House, a departure from the previous arrangement under Goldman, who handled sales through her store. And according to several people with knowledge of the dynamic between Goldman, a zaftig brunette originally from Israel, and Koop, a tall and lanky blonde born in Missouri, their distance is more than geographic.

“They were a team,” said one intimate, who requested anonymity to discuss how the business partnership between Koop and Goldman fell apart. The rift and the resulting confusion about who watched over the wardrobe of a worldwide fashion icon was “unfortunate.”

Of course none of this bubbled to the surface until Obama wore that pesky Alexander McQueen dress to the state dinner for China. While Goldman had been lauded for the first lady’s other state dinner dresses, she got neither blame — nor praise — for this one. Cathy Horyn of The New York Times noted Goldman’s waning level of involvement when she accused WWD and the CFDA of going on a witch hunt after that dress.

If the article is coy about who suggested that customized McQueen frock, it is direct on other issues. It confirms that yes, Obama really does pay for all of her clothes — though as a longtime Ikram customer, she does get a nice discount when she shops there. But the story leaves how often she still shops there wide open.

While Koop seems to be taking advantage of her proximity to glory, she’s still an assistant. Goldman, on the other hand, is a long-trusted advisor who still has an in with Obama’s favorite designers. For proof of this, look no further than lede of the story in question, which places Goldman front row at Narciso Rodriguez‘s show during New York Fashion Week. And we all know how much Obama loves Narciso.

At the White House, a new shopper in chief [The Washington Post]

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