How Do You Solve A Problem Like Michelle?

She's fashion's latest muse, and yet...not. Says New York, "There lurks an unspoken, uneasy relationship between the industry and its newest icon." To put it bluntly, Michelle Obama makes fashion feel bad about itself.

It's no secret that fashion is not a diverse industry, and as New York's Amy Larocca points out, there was a conspicuous contrast between fashion's vocal support for our new president and the industry itself. "During the campaign, designers, from Marc Jacobs to Tory Burch, celebrated Obama in a frenzy of T-shirts and tote bags that conflated change and style. But despite such liberal goodwill, the industry is overwhelmingly white, both in its makeup and its view of its customer." Were diversity a matter of course, Italian Vogue's all black issue would not have been the huge cause for excitement that it was. And while that issue may have sparked a flurry of all-black fashion week shows and isolated celebrations of "the other," these were quite conscious exceptions. If Michelle Obama is to become a muse, in a certain sense it will serve as a rebuke: the embrace of a woman who's gotten where she is, stylistically and otherwise, in spite of the industry.

The other issue, says Larocca, is the role fashion plays in the First Lady's life, the fact that "she uses fashion but is not defined by her interest in it."

She’s no Jackie Kennedy, whose tenure as First Lady is remembered precisely for her interest in style. This seems an unlikely course for Michelle Obama. Here is a beautiful, well-dressed woman for whom fashion is a sidebar. Hers is the kind of résumé that can induce a certain self-hatred among people who’ve devoted their lives to tracking hemlines and hairdos.

Michelle's attitude seems to be an eminently sensible one: as long as one needs to wear clothes publicly, have fun with it, make them beautiful and interesting, champion smaller designers. But the need comes first, then the whimsy. At the end of the day, she doesn't live for fashion. And this, while probably the only way the industry can thrive in the coming years, is more novel than it should be.

The interesting question is what the high priests (and more to the point, priestesses) of the fashion world will do with this opportunity. Will they use it as a chance to see fashion and diversity embraced in a natural, organic and practical way, or will Michelle become an excuse, a solitary nod to difference that allows them to pat themselves on the back and then never put another black woman on the cover of Vogue for another two years? It's in some ways unfair to address Michelle Obama as anything but the individual she is, and yet the fervor with which fashion has embraced her does make one wonder: exactly what is it they want to be on board with? Just Michelle - which is, perhaps enough - or what she could start?
Michelle O [New York Magazine]