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April 21 2014

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Michelle Obama: The Model Years

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Yesterday, over plates of halibut and pomegranate salad at Bergdorf Goodman’s BG, some of fashion’s most powerful women gathered in honor of perhaps the industry’s most hotly debated topic of late: Michelle Obama. Tod’s and Tina Brown hosted the icon-studded group, which included Iman, Veronica Webb, Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer, Tory Burch, and Michelle Obama favorites Isabel and Ruben Toledo and Sophie Théallet. The catalyst for the serene occasion (an ideal respite from the chaos taking place at NYFW outposts around the city) was the launch of Kate Betts’ book Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style.

While many might contend that the subject of the First Lady’s wardrobe has become its own “dead horse,” yesterday’s luncheon revealed that a few Michelle Obama style stones had been left unturned. For one, her effect on “big girls,” as The Daily Beast’s Tina Brown (left, with Betts) put it. “She’s made big girls comfortable. I love her unabashed big girl-ness. I like that about her: Her imperfections are what make her so appealing.” As for whether or not the First Lady should stick to American designers? “I think she should wear whatever the hell she likes.”

“I don’t think anyone has really looked at her style in the context of First Lady style,” Betts added. “We always compare her to Jackie, but I wanted to go all the way back to the beginning and see why style matters for first ladies. I also wanted to look at her style in a broader cultural context. And to look at why her style mattered to her in her trajectory from the South Side of Chicago, to Princeton, to Harvard, to a Chicago law firm, to the White House, and why her style became a sort of talisman for her—something that she held onto for herself in places that were places that were not necessarily the most friendly places for somebody like her.” And that includes moonlighting as a model. Betts discovered that the First Lady worked as a mannequin for three friends (also aspiring fashion designers) during her days at Princeton. And, how does Michelle feel about her former modeling days and style history being brought to light? “The response was very positive,” Betts said, smiling.

Photo: Courtesy of Tod’s

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