Friday Column | The Colour of Fashion

Michelle Obama in Isabel Toledo, courtesy JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Michelle Obama in Isabel Toledo, courtesy Jim Watson-AFP-Getty Images

LONDON, United Kingdom It was almost old times in fashion this week.

First, even better than the Oscars, came the inauguration outfits. Vogue.co.uk even put up a slide show of what people were wearing on the big night. I can’t remember that happening when George Bush was elected, and then subsequently re-elected.

Michelle Obama made some inspired choices. Isabel Toledo, who made the green beaded dress and coat the new first lady wore during the day, is one of my favourite designers and, although a darling of the fashion set, was under appreciated in the wider world. (Certainly no longer.)

But not everyone was pleased. Although Jason Wu, the 26-year-old Taiwanese designer of the cream evening dress Michelle wore, is a member of a minority group, co-founder of the Black Artists Association, Amnau Ele, took Mrs. Obama to task for not wearing the work of a black designer, telling WWD, “It’s one thing to look at the world without colour but she had seven slots to wear designer clothes. Why wasn’t she wearing the clothes of a black designer? That was our moment.”

Wasn’t this election all about breaking down these sorts of barriers?

Moving on, the following night, Hussein Chalayan, not black, but as a Turkish Cypriot certainly the member of a very small minority in fashion, had his moment at the Design Museum in London. Puma, the company who both backs his label and employs him as creative director, sponsored a retrospective of his more inventive runway collections.

Without any signage to explain the philosophy behind each collection (apparently leaflets will be given to attendees), only collection title and season, it was a chance for the fashion cognoscenti at the opening to test their memories.

“I think this was the Victorian dress under the Edwardian dress, under the 1960s,” I heard someone explain.

In any case, the Puma-Chalayan hook-up is one of my favorites. Puma gives Hussein not just the money, but the room to let his imagination run wild. When he was creative director at Asprey, it was clear from the rather mundane clothes that he was being hemmed in.

The last retrospective I saw at the Design Museum was that of Manolo Blahnik in pre-credit crunch 2003. The place was even more packed now than then. There was a line around the block waiting to get in to see Hussein and his work.

People may not have the money to buy clothes, but it seems the interest in fashion is alive and well. Or maybe it was the free champagne?

Lauren Goldstein Crowe is co-author of a book on Jimmy Choo to be published by Bloomsbury later this year

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3 comments

  1. ooh i thought that remark from the Black Artists Association was a little uncalled for… maybe she didn’t wear black designers, but there were all kinds of black artists represented at the inauguration, and personally the reason why i like the obamas is they aren’t about black/white but about diversity… because that’s what america is really about. there is more than just two races.

    i’m sad i couldn’t see the chalayan show… though i did see the treacy/blow show in 2002… it really changed my idea about fashion. as for interest in fashion, of course people are interested, and they should be. we need clothes as much as we need a roof over our head. it saddens me though that fashion is equated with shopping, because that’s not always the case.

  2. While I do see where Amnau is coming from, this was also a moment for AMERICAN designers to shine. Though, a nod to an African American designer in one of those outfit changes would have been nice!

  3. I’m glad you highlighted that!

    because she’s black she has to wear a black designers line?

    apparently this Miss Eele is making an official complaint? haha.

    Because of course, the most pressing issue of concern right now is what Mrs Obama wears? All this ‘spokesperson’ has done is manifest some incredibly negative PR for herself & ‘the people’ she represents.

    Got to love those Americans.

    me from Torquay, Torbay, United Kingdom