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Obama knocks em dead in England and France

Michelle Obama looked just the part of a First Lady on her G20 and Nato summit visits

Well now, I couldn't let the week go by without mentioning Mrs Obama and her fashion sense, could I? Michelle Obama and Sarah Brown

Just quite what charisma the Obamas carry with them was perfectly evident on the steps of Downing Street. Our heavy, fleshy Prime Minister and his primly suited wife looked like they were not quite from the same planet as the Glamour Twins - he in his well-cut suit, she in plain old J Crew apparently, but looking like a butterfly landed among moths. Mrs Obama generally does have the effect of making others look like they just haven't quite tried hard enough - witness how her 'optimistic' pale mint skirt and sparkly cardi, left, contrasts with Sarah Brown's respectable but dull navy. 

She got on well with the Queen too, we hear. Her Madge even forgave Obama's slip of etiquette in putting her arm round her by actually reciprocating. Unheard of. It's absolutely verboten to touch the person of the Monarch - when Paul Keating of Australlia did it, it damn near caused an international incident. But her Madge seems to have very much liked Mrs Obama and asked her to stay in touch (Queenie is a leftie on the quiet, in that way the rich and priviledged sometimes are). 

The ObamasIt must be an odd thing, as the Daily Telegraph so patriotically pointed out, to sit down to lunch with someone who can put you on a personal sliding scale that includes Churchill and Kennedy. Queenie has met every major head of state of pretty every country since the Second World War. 

For meeting the Queen, Mrs Obama wisely chose to cover up, with a black jacket that she later slipped off to reveal the white top of her dress - a very nice outfit. 

Obama and BruniFor meeting the Sarkozys, she again stuck to a signature style with a textured silk coat in black with pink roses (underneath was a sheath dress in the reverse colourway), while Mrs Sarkozy - not known for her lack of style herself - donned her convent-like signature grey. I'm guessing Dior but could be mistaken. 

Doubtless today the ladies will be off to cheer up cancer patients or pat children on the head sympathetically, as is the lot of presidential wives. 



First Lady makes the cover of Vogue

Michelle Obama is only the second First Lady to ever reach the cover of Vogue

Obama in VogueCan't let the day go by without mention of Michelle Obama making the cover of US Vogue.

She's only the second First Lady to make it to the cover - the first being fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton just over a decade ago. This is most probably due not so particularly to her looks or fashion sense (sound as they are) as to Anna Wintour's credentials as a die-hard liberal. Whatever Laura Bush's personal style, and in most ways I think she's done a difficult job creditably, Wintour was never going to feature her more than she had to because of her political views. 

Still, back to Ms Obama and her personal style, which is becoming known as a modern-day example of ease and practicality. Famously favouring daywear from Gap and J Crew like many fellow Americans (the tweed skirt and peach tops in the photo below are from J Crew), her evening and formalwear outfits seem to be chosen largely with the help of a retailer, Ikram Goldman, who prefers to stay out of the spotlight. Goldman's role in Obama's wardrobe is an interesting but slightly controversial one, and she certainly seems to act as a third party, if not a stylist, between the First Lady and the designers who actually dress her but appear rarely to have met her. 

ObamaThe Vogue interview is with Andre Leon Talley, who helped raise money for the Obama's campaign, and in it, Obama says simply: "I love clothes. First and foremost, I wear what I love." 

Certainly, she always seems comfortable and at ease with herself, whatever her clothes, and she seems quite unrepentant when people don't like them, pointing out that you can't please everyone all of the time. 

Talley makes an astute comment that he often can't remember what Obama was wearing on a particular occasion, but what he does remember is her conversation, alertness, engagement and personality. This, after all, is the aim of clothes, according to Chanel, who knew a thing or two.

"Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman," is one saying attributed to her (probably a dig at her rival Schiaparelli, whose clothes were much more in-your-face). She also said: "Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury," - a saying that I suspect Obama might heartily agree with.

Another Chanel comment with which Obama might concur is that the 'best' colour is the colour that suits you, and it's nice to have a First Lady who isn't afraid of colour. Obama's now famous for her reds, magentas, blues and golds, and the magenta dress on the cover is by Jason Wu, who made the white evening gown she wore on inauguration night. 

Michelle Obama is a poster child for all of us over 40, who although we might lack her good looks and height can at least be inspired by her confident and relaxed appearance and her sense that clothes are there to be worn and to ease your way through your life.


Sunshine all over the place...

Michelle Obama's choice of vibrant yellow sparkle sends a decided message about her fashion sense

I couldn't let today pass - obviously - without a mention of Michelle Obama's outfits for inauguration day. For pictures, though, you'll have to look elsewhere - they're all seriously copyrighted.

Personally, I loved her day outfit - a classic combination of matching dress and coat in wool lace by Cuban-American designer Isabel Toledo. This is a combo that the Royal Family favour over a skirt suit, because, as Princess Margaret once explained: "You can take your coat off and still be dressed underneath". It also gives you a longer silhouette and doesn't chop in you in half visually. 

Apparently, Obama's coat was lined with pashmina, which gives it a nice touch of luxury. The unusual and optimistic yellow colour, too, made it stand out in the crowd, though not many white women could get away with it - this is probably a colour for darker skins. I also liked her combination of green gloves with green shoes of a different shade - not too matchy-matchy, but young and fresh. It looks individual. I thought at first that she was carrying a red handbag, which also struck me as a interesting choice, but this turned out to be a bible. THE bible, in fact. Oops.

As I predicted (hah), her dress had a bit of neck interest, which makes it look better in half-portrait photos, the lace was a good choice as it's uncreasable, and the little bit of sparkle all over the outfit was very nice. What DOES a girl wear to a 5pm event anyway?

The outfit included a gilet with a ribbon front against the cold weather, and a cardigan that very few of us saw as it was visible only at the luncheon, where cameras were not permitted. Also, strangely, Grazia magazine noted that during the earlier part of the day, Obama was wearing shiny white hose with her outfit, but appeared later to have discarded them. She does seem to have a preference for bare legs, so perhaps they just got irritating as the day wore on. 

I wasn't so keen on Obama's white evening gown by Jason Wu, which struck me as a little busy and a little full in the hips with all those gathers, but the one-shoulder look definitely suits her.

The kids, of course, were cute as buttons in their blue and pink ribbon-waisted coats, and J Crew must be pleased as punch about it, as both coats were from them, along with Michelle Obama's leather gloves.  

It's a tough job to look good on a freezing day and kudos to the many women who managed it yesterday, with their thick coats and mufflers, and - in Aretha Franklin's case - a truly spectacular hat. They came off much better than most of the men, many of whom looked like grandads.

So will Obama be as big a fashion leader as Jackie Kennedy? Well, I think she could be. And she's a good role model, with her combination of lesser-known American designers (a decided boost for the US fashion industry) and well-thought-of high-street brands. Her clothes permit her some freedom of movement - they're tasty, tasteful, age-appropriate oufits in which you can get the job done, and which ordinary women won't feel are completely out of their reach sartorially. 

Good luck to her. 

For lots of pix of the day, including her outfits, visit the Huffington Post.



Spoilt for choice on inauguration day

For all those listening to Obama tomorrow, there'll be others watching his wife

Diane von fustenberg suitJust a quickie today, as I am down with a cold and feeling a bit ropey.

Tomorrow, all eyes will be on Barack Obama as he makes his inaugural speech, but the fashionistas among us will also doubtless be watching to see what his wife wears. 

2009 will be the year of the dress, reckons my friend K, simply because Michelle Obama wears so many of them. Over the past year, she's been seen in many of her favourite sheath dresses, usually jersey, long-sleeved, perhaps with neck detailing, and it's a look that flatters her tall, athletic frame. 

With this in mind, Women's Wear Daily asked a bunch of leading designers to sketch outfits for her to wear for the swearing-in ceremony and the ball afterwards. Some were dreadful, including Zac Posen's offerings, which would drown even a woman of Obama's stature, and other designers just trotted out their usual shtick without any reference to the person who'd be wearing it.

Chanel outfitsReese dressSome, however, were really lovely, picking up on Obama's evident desire for sleek lines and unfettered movement. Here are a few - my favourite 'day' outfit is the yellow Diane Von Fustenberg at top left (practical too, as it's bound to be freezing), though Karl Lagerfeld's white suit is also very neat and spruce, and his black evening dress has a nice touch with the red shoes matching the bust bow. Tracy Reese came up with the simple blue gown with frontal detailing, which echoes some of the dresses Obama has worn on the campaign trail, and that strikes me as very 'her'.

Mizrahi dressSom dressFor photo impact, Mizrahi has got it bang on (see left), with some lovely colour combinations for Obama and the children to wear, and a design that shows off Obama's strong shoulders, while the Peter Som white evening gown would look just lovely against her brown skin. That would be my personal favourite - it's incredibly elegant - but most voters chose either the dark blue one-shouldered Michael Kors dress, which is also lovely, or the extremely glamourous Monique l'Huillier red dress (which is gorgeous, but perhaps more Hollywood than Washington). 

Kors dressHuillier dressDressing for public life is always a tricky undertaking - one reason that the Royal Family have relied very heavily on houses like Hartnell and Hardy Amies over the years. Your clothes have to be elegant, standout but not upstaging, uncreasable and must perform well (I've always remembered Princess Margaret telling one interviewer: "Sleeves mustn't be too tight - they must be alright for waving..."). The silhouette should be strong,  any detailing needs to stand out in a photograph, and and the top half of the garment must carry the interest, because a lot of the photographs of it will be cropped to half-portrait. These are outfits that have to work for their keep. 

But whatever she chooses - and it's almost certainly not one of these dresses - Ms Obama will have the world at her feet when it comes to her outfits for tomorrow's important events and every public appearance thereafter. 

For the full collection of 40 outfits, visit WWD.

Right, I'm off to suck some cough candy and rub on some Vick's Vapour rub. Oh, the glamour...


Exhaustion and relief

Now it's all over, there's a sense of quiet relief among everyone I know.

It's a strange business when you think about it.

We Europeans can't vote in a US election, but we watch with baited and sometimes frustrated breath because everything the US does affects the rest of us. It's a relief to have it all done and dusted.

A historic event, as everyone says. Although Obama is about as white a black guy as you could ever come across, and although I would have preferred Hillary, it is probably more important for America that they get their first black president than that they get their first woman president. Women have always been discriminated against, but only when they were black were they slaves. 

I didn't manage to stay up all night to watch. When I calculated that it would be 5.00am before the first results came in, I sloped off to bed at 1.30, then got up again at 7.00 to find a complete landslide.  It is impossible even for an old cynic like me not to be moved at others' emotion at the result, and it's fantastic to see so many people actually involved in the election process, no matter which way they voted. 

Personally I would have liked to see more substance to the Obama campaign - more meat on the bones of what he stands for - so it now a case of sitting back and waiting to see what will happen. At least a Democratic Congress might help matters along and the US might, for the first time in 40 years, see some real social reform if all goes well, though I think the health insurers have the country so firmly by the balls that improvement in that area would be very difficult. 

And how will Bush be remembered, I wonder? To the European mind, Americans have a habit of electing dumb fuckers as President (I well remember the howls of anguish when Reagan got in), but Bush has got to be the worst of the lot. Incoherent, stumbling, full of malapropisms - a clown who tapdanced on the White House steps - he had me reaching for the 'mute' button every time he appeared on television. I found him unbearable.

In terms of his policies, he was a disaster for his country and his people. Under the Bush administration, let us remember, the rich have got richer and EVERYONE ELSE in America has got poorer or stagnated. This is not a good legacy. NOT signing the Kyoto Protocol is not a good legacy. Iraq, Guantanamo Bay with its torture chambers, extraordinary rendition, the Patriot Act, the attitude to North Korea, Cuba, Iran, are not good legacies. The endless faith-based initiatives, the brakes put on science and stem cell research, Terry Schiavo, the resistance to equal rights for gay people, the worst financial cataclysm in a century, are not good legacies.

It remains to be seen how much Obama can regain America's respect on the world stage - there is a great deal of damage to repair - but at least it's a step in the right direction. And it will be a relief to not have to reach for the remote whenever the President appears on the television.


Fingers crossed for Obama

Tonight, the US has a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the world

It's been a long eight years of nastiness and mayhem, but let's hope that by midnight my time, America might once again be able to look at itself in the mirror.