Mrs. O gets the full icon treatment
By Garance Franke-Ruta
America still has a crush on Obama -- Michelle Obama, that is.
While other prominent women in politics slug it out in the agonistic public sphere and are rewarded with the negative approval ratings that follow like battle scars -- 50 percent for Palin, according to recent Gallup polling, and the same for Pelosi -- the well-coifed and well-dressed first lady has since the election become even more popular than her husband.
Tough foreign policy decisions and the contentious health care debate may have wiped the bloom off the presidential rose, but the first lady remains newsstand gold. Her marriage is the new New York Times magazine cover story. She graces the cover of the December 2009 Glamour, resplendent in red, the first time in the magazine's 70-year history that a first lady has done so. And now a glossy 236-page book about her style is giving her the full icon treatment.
Just out in bookstores Wednesday, "Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy" is the carefully curated offspring of the Mrs.-O.org blog maintained by Mary Tomer since shortly after the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Tomer, who works for advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York, says she was "absolutely captivated" by the way Obama combined "strength and femininity" at the convention, and the way the "grand platform and extended format" were "married with a very feminine, almost romantic style sensibility" by the then-senator's wife. The Mrs.-O blog was midwifed by the Zag division of Bartle Bogel, whose in-house "creative technologist" provided Web design and hosting services to Tomer as part of an internal effort to help fund and develop employee-led ideas.
After the election, Tomer was quickly approached by two publishers and wound up with an agent who helped her broker a deal in the "very low" six-figures with a third, the Center Street imprint of the Hachette Book Group Inc., in December 2008.
She spoke with more than 40 designers for the book, which includes two-page interviews with such Obama favorites as Jason Wu, Loree Rodkin, Isabel Toledo and Peter Soronen. It's also filled with fabric swatch close-ups, dress shots (both famous and less well known) and displays the thoroughness of a librarian in cataloging the origins of Obama's many brooches, pins and patent-leather heels.
As for that name: "My mother had passed on this fascination with Jackie Kennedy's style... the parallels have been made too literal, but the fascination around both women is where it's really valid," said Tomer, who adds that in Mrs. O she feels that "my generation had found its Jackie O."
Influenced in design and spirit by the 2001 volume "Jacqueline Kennedy : The White House Years: Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum," the Kennedy references come through as well in a selection of images that focus on Obama's dresses and more Mad Men-style outfits. (Neat trick for a book by an ad agency account planner.)
Though Tomer has caught some flack for not being a completely independent blogger -- her company invested considerable staff resources in the blog and she wrote the book on the company dime -- she rejects the idea that the blog and book are anything other than a product of her own "passion" and admiration for Mrs. O. "The book advance was invested back into the production of the book and more," she says -- mainly for photo rights and design work. There was no outside client involved -- part of a new advertising company trend in which products are launched by the firms themselves.
Tomer has never met her fashion hero, contenting herself with admiring from afar. "I did pen her a letter earlier this year and told her all about the blog and book project and asked for an interview," she said of her one exception.
She received a letter back from Tyler Lechtenberg, the associate director of correspondence for the first lady, she says, "thanking me for the letter and declining the request."
Posted at 6:00 AM ET on Oct 29, 2009
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