Michelle Obama’s selection of a Jason Wu dress for attending President Obama’s State of the Union address has caused quite a stir. When she appeared in the audience wearing the sleeveless tweed colorblock dress accented with one of her signature pins, the first lady looked chic as usual. The revelation that this piece was by Jason Wu, the same designer she selected for the first and second inaugural balls, prompted fashion insiders to theorize: Is Jason Wu Michelle Obama’s Oleg Cassini?
Oleg Cassini was famously the designer of choice of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. She worked closely with the designer over the course of her time at the White House, crafting many of the custom looks that would become iconic.
Mrs. Obama, by contrast, is known for experimenting with an ever-changing range of designers and fashion houses — even selecting items from accessible brands such as J. Crew and Target to integrate into her luxurious wardrobe.
Yes, when Michelle wears Target it is Jason Wu for Target. Is that yet another sign that the young, Taiwanese-American fashion star is becoming the first lady’s go-to couturier? The Daily Beast has this to say about the possibility.
“Much comparison has been drawn between Mrs. Obama and Jacqueline Kennedy, mainly due to both women’s distinctive interests in fashion,” the online outlet opines. “But now another similarity is emerging between the two women. It seems that Wu could be quickly shaping up to be Obama’s equivalent of Oleg Cassini, Kennedy’s standby designer during her own White House years.”
“The dress she wore to Tuesday’s State of the Union was edgier than the sweet dresses she’s commissioned from Wu in the past—a sign of their potentially strengthened alignment,” writer Misty White Sidell noted.
Jason Wu’s representatives have confirmed that the dress is part of the designer’s pre-fall 2013 collection, but have not commented on what the first lady’s frequent selections from his line may mean. Some critics have questioned Mrs. Obama’s decision to give so much attention to one brand, when her power of choice has the ability to help many other promising talents. This complaint first surfaced when the first lady chose Wu for her second inaugural gown.
“Nothing against Mr. Wu — how could there be when the dress was this gorgeous? — but we haven’t seen a first lady give a designer this much exposure since Nancy Reagan met James Galanos,” The New York Times summarized about many reactions to her scarlet ball gown. Some in the industry believe she is tasked to use her trend-setting capacity to assist as many designers as possible, acting almost as an American fashion activist.
Leaving a consistent impression of what her style stood for in the annals of history could weigh as heavily on the first lady as the need to promote fashion as a whole, Times reporter Eric Wilson also relates. An important consideration is the fact that people will be viewing her inauguration gowns for hundreds of years at the Smithsonian. Wu’s way of dressing the first lady may fit perfectly with her desired fashion legacy.
For now, it is clear that Jason Wu — who has been repeatedly worn by Michelle Obama in contexts great and small — is one of the most easily identified staples in her style arsenal. The first lady understands her ability to make obscure brands into household names. Yet, by consistently positively appraising Wu’s designs by choosing them, Michelle Obama demonstrates an even greater power: that of helping a designer make history.
Because of Mrs. Obama, the name Jason Wu will be permanently etched in the narrative of our country.
“Official designer,” maybe — we’ll likely never know. Going down in history is fair compensation for not receiving that title.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.