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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 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."

By Web Politics Editor  |  October 29, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama  
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I think the iconic images I will remember about Mrs. Obama are the pictures of her hugs, like her arm around the Queen, with kids, etc. Also liked to see her in the garden, hula hooping and jumping rope, dancing with her hubby. I don't see her clothing though she always looks great. I see her smile. What a wonderful, strong, beautiful woman!

Posted by: cats2 | October 30, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Usually, how people dress speaks for itself.

I expect the first lady of the United States to always dress like the first lady of the United States.

There is no substitute or excuse for less.

Posted by: Jimmy7 | October 29, 2009 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Please don't compare her style to Jackie Kennedy's. Ms. Kennedy was a real fashion plate and didn't depend on the advice of anyone
You're kidding, right? Mrs. Onassis had the advice of many people, including Oleg Cassini and Diane Vreeland from Vogue. Wake up.

Posted by: frieda406 | October 29, 2009 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Hate is a powerful drug - and it certainly CONTROLS some commenters here.

Posted by: angie12106 | October 29, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

I have concluded that the toxic right wing Obama haters who post so often here can't possibly be as uneducated as they seem, so I guess all the spelling errors are simply to irritate liberals, who tend to be better educated; or else to express solidarity with Mrs. Palin, who is so proud of her global ignorance. I will say though that when the RNC was dressing her last year, she did look very sharp. Too bad she went back to her outmoded hair and ugly pink jacket. I don't care for all of Mrs. Obama's fashion choices, but it's her money and her mirror. She's no Jackie, but that was the product of blue blood, old money and couture on demand. Michelle is doing just fine.

Posted by: greyK | October 29, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Obama has poor taste and is not choosing the right clothes for her body type. She wears clothes that do not flatter her "athletic" body type. Those wide belts look great on some women, not her however and she continues to wear them. Her designers are making a great deal of money off of her and it doesn't help. Please don't compare her style to Jackie Kennedy's. Ms. Kennedy was a real fashion plate and didn't depend on the advice of anyone. Ms. Obama should stick to her old style of dressing. She looked much better.

Posted by: inowat | October 29, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Let her enjoy it because in 3 years she and hubby are outta there. say whatever happened to that $200(+) million obama made from campaign funds? And just where is that illegal aunt living besides under federal protection? And we never hear to much about the grandmother living free in the WH. Guess obama put her on the federal payroll as well.

Posted by: KBlit | October 29, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I like Mrs Obama well enough but she has made some choices in dress that I find really appalling.Let me say upfront I am no fashion plate but there are some things that are so blatantly wrong that one has to say say something. I was just viewing the gallery on Mrs Obama and I just saw a glaring example of what not to do. She is wearing a beautiful gold dress with an oversized bow at the waist (this was when she went to Copenhagen) Ok that's fine. I like the dress but to my horror she paired it with a short sleeved cardigan.That totally ruined it for me. It completely ruined the effect of the dress and made it look ordinary. I also wish she would stop wearing those belts under her armpits. I know she is young and wants to push the envelope but she also needs to lose those cardigans which are too informal and casual. Wear them for informal occasions. She is an attractive woman and she has made some good choices but she needs to take care of a few things. Get rid of the belts and the overabundance of cardigans. Please don't say I'm a hater because I'm not. I want to see her look fabulous and succeed.

Posted by: clarendon67 | October 29, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

What a fun book. It is certainly appropriate for first ladies to be looked at for their dress selections. And she is a dynamic woman who doesn't go by the usual look. Good for her. She has her own style. According to inowat, "She is big and gawky and does not have the body that looks good in clothes." She is certainly not the usual paper thin model you see in mags, and more power to her! She is a tall graceful woman who has a toned body. To me that is certainly beauty. Thank Goodness not everyone thinks the way you do.

Posted by: lanz2 | October 29, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

when it comes to the problems this country has...
DwightCollins should learn that...
sentences end in a single period...
and not ellipses...


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | October 29, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

A fashion plate? This is laughable. Wearing cardigans over linen dresses. Wearing miniskirts over leggings with that tall body? Horrid, horrid. Please stop insulting Jackie O. and focus on the fact that she has a brain.

Posted by: jdgrillo | October 29, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

when it comes to the problems this country has...
she should keep quiet...
keep obama happy...
and stop taking up time that could be used on helping the unemployed...

Posted by: DwightCollins | October 29, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I don't care how many times the hacks in the media try to sell it, I ain't buying it.

Posted by: rdklingus | October 29, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Obama is fantastic. Not only is she intelligent and accomplished but she has serious style. I find it pretty sad that people come here to make obnoxious comments about her, especially the particularly bitter-sounding person who claims to have been an "art major....majoring in fashion design". What if anything have you done with your education that qualifies you to slam the First Lady because you think her "body" is not right?

This woman is in fantastic shape, unlike most Americans. She dresses in a way that flatters her tall, athletic figure. She is a far better role model for women than anorexic models. How many First Ladies have we had that could actually run a mile without passing out?

All I can say is that she is excellent and her high approval ratings are well deserved.

Posted by: marSF | October 29, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations on the blog and the book. The book will certainly become a historical reference for fashion and first ladies.

Disregard the hateful comments. The comment section of many news outlets has become the virtual bastion for those unable to find humans who are interested in listening to their hate and intolerance.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | October 29, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I was an art major in college majoring in fashion design. I can tell you that ms. Obama is not a fashion plate. She is big and gawky and does not have the body that looks good in clothes. To compare her with Jackie Kennedy is a travesty. Ms. O. needs to stick with Sears fashions and let it go at that.

Posted by: inowat | October 29, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Great article. Too bad for the haters! Get over yourselves!

Posted by: shellw362160 | October 29, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

its spelt - paid

Posted by: dwjbaker | October 29, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: highwaybluesoccer | October 29, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

"...first lady has since the election become even more popular than her husband."

That's not hard to do.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | October 29, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Who payed for it?

Posted by: akeegan2 | October 29, 2009 8:02 AM | Report abuse

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