Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg and the entire Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) are wicked mad at the
First Lady Fashionista In Chief, because she wore this unbelievable Alexander McQueen dress to the state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. de la Renta told WWD: “My understanding is that the visit was to promote American-Chinese trade — American products in China and Chinese products in America. Why do you wear European clothes?” And CFDA backed him up with this official statement (via Fashionista):
CFDA believes in promoting American fashion. Our First Lady Michelle Obama has been wonderful at promoting our designers, so we were surprised and a little disappointed not to be represented for this major state dinner.
Color me conflicted. On the one hand, I see their point: The Cut reports that “a study published in the Harvard Business Review placed an estimated value on the public appearances Michelle made wearing clothing from November 2008 to December 2009 at $2.7 billion.” J. Crew is basically ready to submit her for sainthood because she and her daughters look so gosh-darn adorable in their twinsets and frilly blouses. And with Obama’s State of the Union revolving around how Americans need to out-innovate everyone else to build our future, wearing American-made clothes does seem like a great way to stay on message.
But. Two things.
1) “American brand” does not necessarily equate American-made: J. Crew clothing is largely manufactured in Italy and China. And many CFDA members like Donna Karan and Calvin Klein rely on sweatshop labor in far-flung places to make their clothing on the cheap. I’d be a heck of a lot more excited if Obama decided to use her wardrobe to support American brands who manufacture in the United States and/or follow fair trade practices when they employ foreign factories to ensure all of their workers are treated well and paid a living wage. Of course then she’d be in trouble for walking around naked most of the time.
2) I’m just not convinced that being First Lady means your body (and the clothes you put on it) has to become public property in this way. Personal style is personal and Obama is obviously someone who gets a great deal of pleasure out of fashion and understands it’s power as a form of personal expression. Why on earth shouldn’t she wear the McQueen dress if she just rillyrilly loved it? It’s freaking fantastic. I would be so very grouchy if I had to follow some arbitrary rule like “only American designers” to the point where I no longer felt like my clothes represented who I am.
I admit this is a gray area, since, whether by accident or by design, people do emulate her style in a way that translates to fashion’s bottom line in a big way. The Cut even keeps a Michelle Obama Look Book, tracking everything she wears pretty much every day, so you can run right out and buy the very same bicep-flaunting sheath dress. So I get why Obama choosing American designers is good for the American fashion industry. But until they get a whole lot better about business practices that are good for people everywhere, I’m not convinced Obama should trade her right to personal style for a patriotic uniform.
[Photo via Fashionista]