A Captive Audience

Michelle Obama in Alexander McQueen: Lady in Red
January 22, 2011, 7:17 am
Filed under: Research | Tags: , , ,

Michelle Obama in Alexander McQueen: Lady in Red by Robin Givhan from The Daily Beast

Michelle Obama in Alexander McQueen

“The red petal print, silk organza gown wasn’t so much an act of diplomacy as a broad statement about the new realities of the fashion industry. In choosing a dress from Alexander McQueen, Mrs. Obama championed the cause of artisan design, the legacy of bespoke tailoring, and the staggering creativity that can be nurtured in the frock trade when it is at its best. The sleeveless dress, with its asymmetrical neckline, was created by a house that represents the designer imagination at its most indulgent and devilish. And in wearing the gown to honor China, a country that many view with disdain for its abundance of cheap labor, counterfeit products, and poor labor practices, Mrs. Obama seemed to be recognizing the country’s inevitable place in the fashion cycle and giving it its due. Indeed, Chinese consumers represent a vast new marketplace for designer companies, and the production quality of its factories continues to improve. In short, Mrs. Obama’s choice was an optimistic celebration of all that fashion can be and it seemed to suggest that China was welcome to be a part of that vision.

“This dress, less body conscious and richly adorned than Mrs. Obama’s previous state dinner gowns by Naeem Khan and Peter Soronen, seemed to be more of a celebration of the global fashion industry rather than a more narrowly focused desire to spotlight the creativity of China or any American designers who can claim a familial connection to it.

In Mrs. Obama’s considered fashion message, her full-skirted dress, from a British design house worn in celebration of a Chinese president, struck a blow for creativity. In grand and sweeping terms, one could argue that it symbolized the ability of a designer’s imagination to cross borders, connect different cultures, and ultimately express itself in a singular moment of beauty.”

Another article on the same website, by Kate Betts, referred to in the quote above about Obama’s trip to India is also interesting and points to a subtle and complex symbolism used through her fashion choices in order to acknowledge and honour other cultures

“Several Indian bloggers wondered why Michelle didn’t don a traditional sari for the more formal state dinner. Perhaps they didn’t recognize her stealth tactics. Did they not remember the lemongrass inaugural outfit? The one for which the color was chosen specifically because it represented rebirth and renewal? Or what about the glittering gold bangles she wore on one arm at the first White House state dinner, in honor of India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh? Not the obvious sari, but an accessible, universal gesture of Indian craftsmanship nonetheless. This trip’s wardrobe was packed with discreet messages of collaboration and understanding.”

And this post details some of the fallout from this dress and Obama’s response.