>> The meteoric rise of Jason Wu — he has tripled his sales appointments for his sold out, yet-to-be-unveiled Fall 2009 collection — shows what an influence Michelle Obama can have on a designer. But Wu doesn't just have Obama to thank — he never actually interacted with the First Lady, but rather with Ikram Goldman, owner of Chicago boutique Ikram, and Obama's gatekeeper to the fashion industry.
In fact, none of the designers who have made clothes for the First Lady have had any direct contact with their White House client — all commissions, measurements, bills, and other directions have been mediated by Ikram, causing something of a controversy; the clothes that Obama has worn recently are predominantly from designers that Cathy Horyn points out, "Ikram sells and ultimately stands to benefit from" — Jason Wu, Isabel Toledo, Narciso Rodriguez, Proenza Schouler, Thakoon, and Mario Cornejo.
Is Obama limiting herself? »
Traditionally, First Ladies have gone straight to the designer, without any brokers in-between. James Galanos, who dressed Nancy Reagan for thirty years, thinks Obama is "limiting herself" by sticking with one retailer. Oscar de la Renta sent 12 sketches for inaugural contention, Carolina Herrera submitted ideas as well — nothing was ordered. A number of other prominent American designers — Vera Wang, Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein, Michael Kors — were never approached; none are listed as being stocked on Ikram's web site. Obama even seems to have neglected her former Chicago standby, Maria Pinto, as of late. But she does still wear J.Crew and Gap — neither of which are stocked at Ikram, and Goldman approached Tracy Reese — who she doesn't stock — in December for day dresses. The First Lady has yet to wear Reese's designs.
Although Goldman wasn't present at Obama's Vogue shoot, a spokesman for the magazine confirmed that she had and Obama had discussed what to wear in advance — an unusual allowance for a fashion magazine with a plethora of stylists on hand. The First Lady told Vogue, "First and foremost, I wear what I love." So why not, as Cathy Horyn suggests, sit down directly with a designer, and talk face-to-face about her likes and needs? She'd even have the benefit of being fitted — and why not, since she's supposed to be getting custom-made gowns and dresses, anyway?