Group knuckle bump to Michelle Obama.

From the yellow wool lace dress and matching coat she wore for the swearing-in ceremony yesterday afternoon — to the remarkable white sweeping gown she chose for the inaugural balls, Michelle’s much anticipated first official tour of duty was as eloquent, as poignant, and frankly as pretty as her husband’s historic speech.

America’s new first lady nailed it.


And in doing so, she has placed the world’s fashion industry on notice.

Women are back in charge of their wardrobes. The old-fashioned boast of a closet swelling with exclusive luxury brands and too many Manolos to count is so last year.

When Michelle walked on stage just before noon yesterday in a chic Isabel Toledo ensemble, it was clear this first lady was in charge.

Toledo, a Cuban American, is a respected designer, known for her wit, her exacting cut and her whimsical approach to fabric. Michelle’s exquisite custom-designed dress was backed with netting for warmth and lined in French silk.

Toledo is a respected fashion designer but hardly a superstar in the pantheon of Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren or Michael Kors. She first gained public attention in the 1980s when she designed a collection in New York with her artist husband Ruben Toledo.

She is avant garde, Hispanic and female. In the category of symbolism, Michelle hit every chord.
Last night, she wore a shimmering white, one-shouldered, floor-length gown, embellished from top to bottom with white floral details and made by 26-year-old New York designer Jason Wu.

Like her husband, Michelle knew she had an enormous, diverse crowd to please yesterday.

“Seventh Avenue has embraced Michelle Obama as its saviour,” said Holly Brubach, author of A Dedicated Follower of Fashion and a former style editor of The New York Times. “But I think this misses the point, which is that a stylish, self-confident woman can present herself well without resorting to the big-ticket, designer labels.”

Just because she looks great doesn’t mean that she’s a fashion enthusiast — a point that seems not to have registered on the industry, but one that resonated with female voters.

“She strikes me as a woman who knows what looks good on her and that she’s a sensible shopper — perfect for the times in which we find ourselves and a refreshing departure from the designer wardrobe of Cindy McCain and the aspirational fashion of Sarah Palin.”

The Obama daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, both wore outfits from J. Crew’s children’s line to the inauguration yesterday.

Michelle had barely stepped in front of the Capitol Hill crowd when the blogosphere went into overdrive.

On, under the heading Michelle Obama’s Bold Inaugural Outfit: Inspiring or Upholstery?, former Canadian fashion editor and magazine publishing powerhouse Bonnie Fuller wrote, “She’s not afraid of controversy — she knows we will be debating the merits of this outfit — she knew that not everyone would like it.”

Not everyone did.

The blog quotes one female observer who said, “Oh my God, she’s wearing a couch.” Of her evening gown, onlookers commented that it looked like a chenille bedspread.

Michelle knows she can’t please everyone. So she followed her heart.

It came down to carefully considered choices with more questions than answers.

Toledo’s haute couture fabric might be perceived as elitist. But a lesser material may not have been up to the occasion.

Still, the dress’s sunny colour speaks to optimism and hope.

Even the green J. Crew gloves were a perfect accent to the ruddy Bible she held as the president swore his oath — a photo that will be burned in history.

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