Friday, January 23, 2009
Does The First Lady Have a "Duty" to Wear Clothing by Black American Designers?
Some people think she does. In a brief snippet that appeared in WWD, The Black Artists Association is criticizing Mrs. Obama for wearing clothing by Jason Wu and Isabel Toldedo on Inaguration Day and not garments designed by African-Americans.
Organization co-founder Amnau Eele said that she is planning to make a "formal appeal" to Mrs. Obama on behalf of the organization adding that “It’s fine and good if you want to be all ‘Kumbaya’ and ‘We Are the World’ by representing all different countries. But if you are going to have Isabel Toledo do the inauguration dress, and Jason Wu do the evening gown, why not have Kevan Hall, B Michael, Stephen Burrows or any of the other black designers do something too?... She continued, “It’s one thing to look at the world without color but she had seven slots to wear designer clothes. Why wasn’t she wearing the clothes of a black designer? That was our moment.”
Hmm. Though I personally would also like to see the First Lady sporting an ensemble by Tracey Reese some day I just have to call bullshit on this complaint. Inauguration Day wasn't just a moment for black designers, it was America's moment and to me, this complaint just comes across as childish.
Clothing is personal and most people pick clothing that a) they like, b) looks good on them. As much as I like seeing celebrities (of all races) walk the red carpet in gowns by designers like Kevan Hall, not every Kevan Hall dress is going to look good on every body.
I think both of Mrs. Obama's ensembles that day fit her particular aesthetic and since she does seem fond of discovering new designers, I would be surprised if she doesn't eventually wear clothing by up and coming black designers as well.
It seem to me that instead of a harsh criticism, Ms. Eele should be studying Mrs. Obama's style and sending her best sketches to the First Lady's office.
What do you think? Does Ms. Eele raise a valid point or is this just sour grapes?
ETA: NYMag.com explores fashipns "unsettled" relationship with The First Lady.
During the campaign, designers, from Marc Jacobs to Tory Burch, celebrated Obama in a frenzy of T-shirts and tote bags that conflated change and style. But despite such liberal goodwill, the industry is overwhelmingly white, both in its makeup and its view of its customer. Not long ago, Stefano Pilati, the designer of Yves Saint Laurent, saw no problem telling Robin Givhan of the Washington Post that black models just don’t look right in his clothes. Michelle’s rumored cover aside, Vogue has only ever had five black celebrities (including LeBron James) on its cover.
An even more vexing question when it comes to Michelle is the fact that she uses fashion but is not defined by her interest in it. She’s no Jackie Kennedy, whose tenure as First Lady is remembered precisely for her interest in style. This seems an unlikely course for Michelle Obama. Here is a beautiful, well-dressed woman for whom fashion is a sidebar.