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Michelle Obama's fashion diplomacy

By Robin Givhan
Michelle Obama stands with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a state dinner at the State Palace Complex Istana Merdeka in Jakarta. (Getty)

During her trip to India, first lady Michelle Obama allowed her fashion choices to speak to the ways in which we are all part of the global community. In Indonesia, her fashion choices seemed based on a simple question: What's pretty?

For the state dinner in Indonesia, she wore a brown and taupe print dress, in a diamond shaped hash mark print that from a distance suggested an ikat-like pattern. The dress, which the White House attributed to New York-based designer Derek Lam, had bracelet sleeves and was paired with an elaborate bib necklace of semi-precious stones.

The dress spoke to the spirit of her location but not in the direct manner that her clothes often did in India.

Lam is an independent designer who also oversees a ready-to-wear collection for the Italian leather goods house Tod's, which is famous for its driving moccassins. His work is rooted in American sportswear and is at its best when it mines the mood of California, where Lam grew up.

For president George W.Bush's second inauguration, Lam created the trenchcoat and trouser ensemble that his daughter Barbara wore to the swearing in at the Capitol.

For the state dinner in New Delhi, Obama chose an ensemble by New York-based designer Rachel Roy, who is Indian-American. She paired the designer's "sable Moroccan tunic" with a "dune velvet skirt." Her evening attire hinted at the luxurious sparkle of traditional Indian fabrics and the elegant drape of a sari without stepping into mimicry.

 michelle obama

The Obamas greet India's Vice President Mohammad Ansari in the receiving line at a state dinner in New Delhi on Monday. PHOTOS: Michelle Obama travels in style

Roy's name might be familiar to those who follow the fashion industry. She is a regular during New York fashion week and on the social circuit. She's known for collections that are feminine and fluid. When president Obama and Mrs. Obama's hosted a state dinner for Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur last year, Mrs. Obama wore an ensemble by Roy when she previewed the evening's menu and place settings.

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The Obamas with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and wife Gursharan Kaur at the prime minister's residence in New Delhi on Sunday.

On this trip, the first lady has also worn several pieces by the Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. That might not seem particularly resonant, but the choice speaks to India's expertise in embroidery and beading -- two of its great contributions to the modern fashion industry. Designers in Europe and New York regularly turn to India to create some of the most elaborately embellished works on the runway. (New York designer Tracy Reese also relies on Indian craftsmen.) Van Noten, who is known for his love for ethnic-inspired fabrics and lavish decoration, is particularly indebted to the country's skill at fine handiwork. Mrs. Obama wore one of his richly printed skirts at the Gandhi memorial.

Obama's wardrobe not only serves as a nod of respect to her hosts, but also sends a message about the country's place in the global fashion economy.

 michelle obama

The First Lady scatters rose petals at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial at Rajghat on Monday. (Reuters)

More on this story:

Photos: Michelle Obama travels in style

First Lady shakes it up in India | Video

Photo gallery: The Obamas visit India

By Robin Givhan  | November 8, 2010; 3:31 PM ET
Categories:  Fashion, Robin Givhan  
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The First Lady's sense of style speaks volumes about her keen sense of cultural awareness. These are smart choices that fashion insiders are smiling away at! Professional, smart, elegant! Very nice!!!

Posted by: knowbout | November 8, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

She's looks frumpy in many of her
And for someone who wants to criticize others for their size, this woman has thunder thighs and a whale tail.
She just plain isn't attractive unless she is being professionally made up.
I'm sure if barry said anything, she would bash him.
Snooty woman needs to take a good hard look in the mirror. Bring her back down to earth real quick.

Posted by: tjmlrc | November 9, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Michelle be stylin on the taxpayer money.

Posted by: xanroc | November 9, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Is she pregnant?

Would be great to have a little Hussein Jr running around in the White House!!!!

Posted by: Silly_Willy_Bulldog | November 9, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Yet again....."we" the tax payers do not "pay" for her clothes. This either comes from her personal wallet or donated to her -- which in turns means she returns it back to the designer (you gets their name all over the press) or given to the Smithsonian for future First Lady exhibits like the one at the American History Museum. Geesh..... But, either way, she's beyond gorgeous and I am loving following her fashion. She is a beautiful woman who takes care of herself and is an example to people out there.

Posted by: townhousekids | November 9, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Say what you will townhousekids.
She has thunder thighs and a big butt.
And she shouldn't point the finger at anyone.
And you didn't see Laura Bush pointing fingers.
But she was a lady.

Posted by: tjmlrc | November 9, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. Obama should have tried on her new duds and looked in the mirror. The majority of the dresses we see in the news are unflattering, make here look huge, and she looks like she is pregnant (maybe she is?).

Posted by: kmol | November 9, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Typical Moochie wardrobe. Frumpy and down right ugly. Let's all watch her lope into a room with that clumsy gait of hers. No sense of fashion, no personal style of her own. American fashion at it's worse.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | November 9, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

And if she wore something more stylish than what you call frumpy, you would be calling her a sex addict or something similar. For my part, she can represent me and my country anytime dressed the way she has been shown in these photos. I'm with you townhousekids.

Posted by: mbrumble | November 9, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Despite Obama's lying to the American public, no sales deals to India have been signed or will be signed because of what I have said below which is also responsible for his support of India's permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council :-

India's njgger-slave, traitor service chiefs who are constantly talking of threats from India's 'neighbors' must be shot on the spot. The United States is EVERYBODY's neighbor. It has already invaded and occupied Afghanistan, a part of traditional India and will expand its occupation to the rest of the subcontinent.
Was Britain India's neighbor? I am India's expert in strategic defence and the father of India's strategic program, including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan means the coast-to-coast destruction of the U.S. by India; see my blog titled 'Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.' which can be found by a Yahoo search with the title for steps I have already taken for the nuclear destruction of New Delhi and then the coast-to-coast destruction of the U.S. and extermination of its population./ ... ./
Conventional arms are worthless for destroying the United Sates. Nuclear arms to destroy the United States with a FIRST STRIKE - this is the key - are cheap and easy to produce with technology India already has. Prepositioning by its special forces a couple of nuclear bombs in Washington and New York and letting the world know we have done so will give India freedom to test thermonuclear weapons designs, ICBMs, etc., as much as it wants, though India already has this freedom but for the njgger-slaves. Alternatively, twenty kiloton bombs can be prepositioned in the largest U.S. cities and then Washington and New York destroyed with the warning that additional U.S. cities will be destroyed if there is any retaliation. The nuclear destruction of New Delhi - without waiting - is all that is needed to make India win. Satish Chandra

Posted by: SatishChandra | November 10, 2010 3:52 AM | Report abuse

Despite Obama's lying to the American public, no sales deals to India have been signed or will be signed because of what I have said below which is also responsible for his support of India's permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council:-

I am India's expert in strategic defence and the father of India's strategic program including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. In my blog titled 'Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.' which can be found by a Yahoo search with the title I wrote: The refusal by pieces of filth such as Advani to recognise the United States as India's number one enemy is sustained by thousands of C.I.A.-RAW-inspired headlines in India's media such as "Indian-American becomes Governor of Louisiana" which should instead say "Indian rewarded for conversion to Christianity with governorship: As reward for conversion to Christianity at age 18, as Americans themselves admit and his numerous published essays and articles on his conversion, Indian made Secretary of Louisiana's Health and Hospitals at age 24, President of the University of Louisiana system at age 27, then Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services in Bush Administration, then member of U.S. Congress and now youngest Governor in U.S. at age 36" (
Bobby Jindal: The Story They Don’t Want You to Read CenLamar: On Life in Louisiana ). Even more important are the thousands of headlines that are missing from India's media, thanks to C.I.A.-RAW, the story they really don't want anyone to know, saying "India's greatest scientist and greatest living Indian publicly tortured in Harvard seminar, systematically and totally starved for up to 3 weeks at a time, made semi-starved and homeless and even blind for years, kept under 24-hour audio and video surveillance as well as surveillance of communications and electrical typewriter and computer use, document creation and photocopying, etc., by satellite for more than past 3 decades, systematically harassed and in poverty and neutralised and robbed of his work at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars per year, robbed of crores in his money and property in India by C.I.A.-RAW, forced back into exile in the U.S., all with full cooperation and participation of India's RAW and India's C.I.A.-RAW-controlled prime ministers, politicians and media -- to keep India poor, weak and enslaved: The most intelligent, most handsome man on Earth, a living Incarnation, plans nuclear supremacy for India in near future, to destroy India's number one enemy, the United States, with ten thousand nuclear-armed missiles and will machine gun and bulldoze into trenches all traitors who stand in the way." Since then I have said they will be destroyed in the nuclear destruction of New Delhi; see my blog.

Posted by: SatishChandra | November 10, 2010 3:56 AM | Report abuse

Ah, Michelle the bag lady strikes again. Nothing looks good on her slouching gargantuan frame. She towers over everyone and her shoulders are bigger than her husbands. You can spin it any way you want to but the eyes don't lie. . . plain drab, dowdy, and unpleasant.
AND the hypocrite needs to reduce those thighs and caboose before she makes another lecture to me about what I eat!!

Posted by: freeman2 | November 10, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

MO needs a tailor and a stylist. Everyone in the whole world knows this.

Her clothing does not flatter her. It does not fit her. And frequently herclothing is inappropriate.

Her walking, standing, sitting and climbing stances are not feminine. Some one should show her how to walk, not bow-legged like a man, but with some grace.

While she may think leaping about is keeping it real, in reality, she lacks decorum and is tasteless.

The fawning press has enabled MO to become a figure of ridicule around the world. A large, awkward, tasteless, vulgarian that leaps around hugging everyone instead of a elegant representative of the US. Such a shame.

The critical press helped Hillary get herself organized, but it has only made a mockery of Michelle.

Posted by: jsands2 | November 11, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

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