Progressives are the object of such animus, that fantasies of revenge are understandable. But just what might the best form of'getting a bit of one's own back' be among much maligned 'angery'African Americans for instance? Certainly there are some who might be perfectly contented to start tackling the injustices of 'birthers' and other 'tea party' propgandist with an utterly "uga-duga" White House.
Manifesting the New Yorker's shameful cover, our 'first brotha' would wear the garb of an African despot and his 'lady', would sport a smart fro and 'kick-ass' boots. Their daughters would attend their local public school, the cabinet would exactingly reflect the diversity of the nation and tribal mask, hides and spears would adorn the East Room.
Then again, the tasteful, low-key Obamas, one thinks not! Obsessed by aesthetic considerations, my milder musings involve nothing more than the President's family merely being as identified with blackness as their predecessors were with whiteness. How one would love to see a proportionate quantity of furnishings and artwork by blacks displayed in an executive mansion decorated by Sheila Bridges or Henry Mitchell! How splendid too, if Michelle Obama sometimes wore ensembles devised by African Americans designers.
If only in part, my day dream has come true! I learned from Tracy Reese, that after two years in the spotlight on the campaign trail eschewining them, Michelle Obama by wearing a dress designed by Ms. Reese, had finally favored a black designer on February 29. The pink lace dress was was featured in a photograph of the First Lady on the cover of People Magazine. "She's worn several of my designs since then, and by other blacks as well. She personally reached out to us..." Reese assured me smiling. We were both attending an engaging 'fashion exchange'.
Harlem's Fashion Row founder Brandice Henderson was on stage in conversation with Steven Kolb, the dapper CEO of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America. The venue was the renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. For the most part the discussion led by the elegant Southern belle who conceived a not for profit meant to encourage, assist and help place young, aspiring designers of color, was highly informative. Mr. Kolb was particularly droll noting the shyness of Anna Wintor. Given that HIV/AIDS presist in epic proportions in New York, with Halem having the dubious honor of being the scourge's epicenter, his relation of the extraordinary fund raising efforts of the CDFA was highly welcome news.
Much less so was his blithe response to the inquiry of a young lady, as to how the CDFA might diversify? Politely, few groaned when he answered, that the mostly white CDFA, was not monochrome "by choice", that anyone meeting their criteria, might "apply to join."
Harlems Fashion Row on stage at the Schomburg Center, from left to right: Phillip Bloch, Tracy Reese, Brandice Henderson, Steven Kolb, Fern Mallis, Memsor Kamarake, Bevy Smith, Michaela Angela Davis.
Images above by Terrence Jennings.
If history teaches us anything, one important lesson to remember is that all nightmares end. Broadening her fashion choices, Michelle Obama is apparently an excellent history student. Certainly she's learned from the example of other great figures from years past how to look wonderful without undue extravagance.
Alas, how unfamiliar with the rich panoply that is the American saga, most people are. One tiny indicator of such widespread ignorance is the very much mistaken assertion of an early anonymous fan of our First Lady.
I'm guessing Michelle Obama would rather emulate someone like Eleanor Roosevelt who actually made a real difference in the world. She is remembered as the greatest First Lady and I doubt she cared who designed her clothes."
This supporter's mistake lies in those final eight words in her last sentence. How completely counter such thinking is to how most people feel, even to our common humanity. Everyone wants to look nice, would like to be admired. In the final analysis, that's most, if by no means all, of the reason women, those who are able, patronize expensive designers. In this respect, Eleanor Roosevelt was no different from you or me. As a member of the upper echelons of New York society, though, from the time of her birth, until she breathed her last, hand-crafted, high fashion formed a central part of her wardrobe.
How cruel, that preoccupied with their dysfunctional idleness Miss Roosevelt's parents never consulted an orthodontist for their shy daughter.
A philandering husband, compounding a sense of insecurity about how she looked, made this truly dynamic First Lady always careful to take great pains, both in terms of her clothes and in maintaining perfect grooming. Dressed in Parisian originals and English tailor-mades as a debutante and young bride, later she patronized specialty shops, like Milgrim's and Bergdorf-Goodman.
Some felt her striking hats a touch flamboyant, but wherever she went, even in the depths of the first Great Depression, Mrs. Roosevelt was always well turned out.
A demi-parure of gold mounted tiger's claws was among her favorite ornaments, since the tigers had been shot by her beloved, (but mostly absent), father. She also often wore superb diamonds, a Riviere necklace and two large rings. She had in addition pearls and other precious gems. And, yet none of this, or anything else she wore, ever competed with her mission to do what good she could, nor diminished her worthy efforts in any way.
The difference between Queens and First Ladies? In the past, the size of their pearls!
Eleanor Roosevelt with Queen Elizabeth, (the current Queen's mother), in1939.
"Striking Vogue-like poses in high-end couture wear in palaces across Europe with Royals is not the picture Americans need to see."
"As far as Mr. de la Renta saying, "'you don't...go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater.'" Why? Perhaps we should all be celebrating a new fashion statement, 'SWEATERS AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE'... dahling; it IS the thing to do."
"I think one reason people embrace her is the fact that she does not have a 'Let them eat cake attitude'. There are a lot of people all over this planet who are not able to afford designer labels, perhaps they might think a little higher of those of us who live in the US because the first lady is dressing like a normal human being."
"Michelle's promoting young American designers, I just want to add that she is also showing restraint in a time of economic crisis by wearing off the rack clothes -- a sensitive and smart thing to do... As much as I love de la Renta's designs, as well as those by other established designers...he misses this critical consideration of the current economic context. If Michelle were to wear exclusively designer clothes, we can count on criticisms about her being as tone deaf and insensitive to the plight of many Americans...Perhaps even being "uppity"... I'd rather Michelle remain herself and real. She's doing terrifically and serving as a great role model not only for women everywhere, but the wives of other heads of state."
These were the responses of a few Obama defenders to criticism leveled at the First Lady's wardrobe choices for her triumphant first European summit. Leveled by some of the nation's most stellar couturiers, their indictment was that, as none of their designs had been selected, the USA's best fashions were not being showcased!
Really? Consistently attractive, how smart the President's wife always manages to look. This hardly occurs by chance and most assuredly happenstance had no part in her high-profile first, visit to the court of Saint James'.
The occasion was a study in contrast, starting with the Obamas' relative youth, humble origins and crucial role on the world stage as a focus of hope. For this private audience the British Monarch was arrayed in bright pink, sporting a handsome diamond flower-brooch, worth at least a million pounds. Towering over her Majesty and HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, her consort, our American President and his wife wore dark apparel of matching modesty.
An exceedingly rare 23.6-carat pink diamond forms the center of this Cartier brooch.
It was presented to the Queen by a Canadian subject,
Dr. John T. Williamson, owner of the world's
richest diamond mine, as a wedding gift, in 1947.
In our troubled times, there they stood amidst opulent surroundings. For many people this sumptuousness seems more anachronistic now, than ever before. Appropriately then, the Obamas' clothes symbolized, that even in the realm of the old order, un-seduced, they can be counted on as effective agents for much needed change.
Deceptively simple, their sober dress reminds one of homespun suits Benjamin Franklin wore while ambassador to Louis XVI's glamorous court, at Versailles. Crowned with wreaths of laurel, the sage of the New World was greeted by aristocrats in their elaborate garb as the very embodiment of Rousseau's natural man. Jefferson's habitual, well worn, fur-lined coat and carpet slippers, adopted during his second term at the White House, also comes to mind.
Juxtaposed with royal splendor, in contrast to irrelevant, merely decorative sovereigns, it was the Obamas' deliberate reticence, offered as a polite gesture of deference, without any presumption to out-do or even to equal the Queen's attire, that actually shone forth causing them to stand out!
At the heart of such choices there lies the subtext of political realities, the appeal of aesthetic considerations versus the danger of unintended negative appearances. Of course Oscar de la Renta makes exquisite clothes, so too do both Donna Karen and Vera Wang. The sort of clothes they would choose for Michelle Obama, the kind they provided, to good effect, to past First Ladies, cost thousands and thousands. Easily able to afford their lovely frocks and handsome suits, neither Mrs. Obama nor the President can afford the public outcry any exclusive adaptation of their luxurious apperal would be certain to bring about.
Michelle Obama wearing Tracy Reese!
Michelle Obama wearing Stephen Burrows!
Michelle Obama wearing Byron Lars!
But, as we all wait with high hopes for better times to come, there's another thing the fashion elite might reflect on. When the most successful and famous designers in the land lament Mrs. Obama going, "in one direction only," from now on their denouncement will also include far less well known, but highly talanted African American designers she's proudly wearing as well!