Not since the era of Camelot has there been so much attention paid to First Lady fashion. It's safe to say that Michelle Obama, is without a doubt the nation's first "hip" First Lady, managing to exude class and refinement without losing that touch of spontaneity and je ne sais quoi. Here, Marie Claire chats with Mandi Norwood about Michelle Style, her new book chronicling the First Lady's style which hit bookshelves May 5.
1. Michelle vs. Jackie-O: how do the fashion icons compare?
Michelle O. has a much more accessible style than Jackie O. While Jackie very often had clothes hand-made just for her, or at least collaborated with designers to create clothing to her specifications, Michelle buys off the runway and off the rack. This, of course, means that it's really easy for the average woman on the street to mimic Michelle's style and feel close to her. I think many women feel like they know Michelle Obama because she's very real, in the way she talks the way she behaves and, yes, in the way she dresses.
2. How is Michelle's sense of style a good role model for women in these economic times?
Michelle Obama clearly doesn't dress according to price tag. We get the very strong feeling that if Michelle loves a dress it isn't because it comes with a high price tag - it's because it makes her happy or feel good. For so many years, women have felt that they have to spend a lot of money and wear designer labels to be truly stylish. Not so, says Michelle Obama, who proves you can dress from Talbots, Gap, J Crew, White House Black Market and look completely on point fashion-wise.
3. What are some of Michelle's most conspicuous "Do's?"
She dresses very knowledgably - she understands what suits her body shape and rotates similar silhouettes. She isn't afraid of color and wears a vivacious range of brights which makes many of her outfits so memorable. She balances soft and strong - strong silhouettes with soft, feminine separates such as cardigans. And she mixes designer labels with affordable pieces which is the essence of modern dressing.
4. How does all this media attention to Michelle's wardrobe strike you? Why do you think this is the case?
We've been craving a smart, savvy, sexy fashion role model for so long now we simply cannot get enough of Michelle Obama. Bear in mind, we've only had the likes of Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson to take style inspiration from which, for many women, was a very depressing state of affairs. Along comes Michelle Obama and not only is she extremely accomplished and professional, but she clearly enjoys fashion, too! It's a compelling combination.
6. Some have criticized Michelle's constant wearing of cardigans...what's your take on that?
Look, we're not talking about a woman who walks onto the global stage in old slippers and moth-eaten cardigans. We're talking about a woman who combines strong, sexy pencil skirts with soft, feminine, cashmere cardigans. A woman who manages to balance comfort and chic. If Michelle Obama were striding around in a masculine, structured, shoulder-padded jacket, everyone would be suggesting that she isn't comfortable with her femininity and is trying to hide it.
7. Will Michelle single handedly bring back the brooch?
The brooch has been in and out of fashion for centuries. This time around, I do think Mrs O. can be credited with its re-surge in popularity, but she wears her brooches in a very organic way. She doesn't look like she's just walked under a tree and an insect or bloom has dropped off a branch and onto her shoulder. Her brooches are always well integrated into her outfits.
8. What are the lessons to be learned from Michelle's way of dressing?
Wear strong silhouettes balanced with soft fabrics and separates. Don't be afraid of bright colors. Keep accessories simple. The most flattering dress for a woman over 35 is on-the-knee-length. And if you're going to go sleeveless, for goodness sake, make sure your arms are strong and toned. No wibbly underarms, please!
9. How would you advise women looking to invest in confident clothing for the modern times, taking cues from Michelle?
*Keep clothes simple and unfussy. The more embellishments, the cheaper clothes look.
* Wear blocks of bold colors – modern power dressing is about creating a powerful presence and nothing says confidence more than a purple or red sheath dress.
* Invest in good-quality accessories since you can always elevate a cheaper item with an expensive belt.
*If in doubt, dress a half size bigger. Nothing crushes your confidence more than feeling like you've squeezed yourself into a dress that's too tight. Michelle Obama never wears clothes that look like they're straining at the seams.
10.What designers would you like Michelle to invest in that she hasn't already?
Mrs O. is already doing a pretty fine job in wearing a great cross-section of designers. I'm happy to see her in Michael Kors, Moschino, Junya Watanabe and Jason Wu. It doesn't get more diverse than that. However, I wouldn't mind seeing her in a few pieces from Vera Wang or Peter Som.
11. How do you predict Michelle's style will evolve over the next few years?
As her confidence and comfort level grows, I suspect we'll see her take more risks with her clothing selections. She's already evolved from the security zone of her Maria Pinto sheaths to more avant garde designs, from designers such as as Junya Watanabe and Azzedine Alaia. We know she loves whimsy, so I'm looking forward to being surprised by wonderful and unusual styling details. And every now and again, being wowed when she steps onto the global stage in another killer outfit from a chain store.
Michelle Style is in bookstores now.