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President Obama’s Era: Low-Key and Modern, From Society to Style

The reign of the 44th President-elect won’t be a New Camelot. Instead, he and his young family will bring their own youthful, low-key style to the White House.

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U.S. President elect Barack Obama kisses his wife Michelle after Obama gave his victory speech during an election night gathering in Grant Park on November 4, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

“The Windy City on the Potomac.”


That was the description of what Washington is likely to be like next year as designers, pundits and social observers rushed Wednesday to define the Barack Obama Era in American politics even before it began. And one thing was clear: the reign of the 44th President-elect won’t be a New Camelot. Instead, he and his young family will bring their own youthful, low-key style to the White House.

Beyond the challenges the President-elect faces — from the economy to trade, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to energy — there was also a sense the Obamas are bringing a much-needed breath of fresh air to the nation’s capital — socially, culturally and stylistically. The socially downbeat years of the Bush administration may be replaced by a more open, upbeat White House, while the fashion industry was salivating at the prospect of having a First Couple who delight in nice clothes and wear them well.

“She will ignite the fashion industry,” Elie Tahari said simply of Michelle Obama. “She is young, pretty, smart and well put together. These are a lot of great qualities.”

Added Donna Karan: “We expect a role model. She is a mother, a wife. She has all the attributes that matter.”

The President-elect was said to be getting right down to business putting together his transition team and crafting his cabinet and key advisers. This includes the imminent naming of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.), a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, as his chief of staff. Many former Clinton administration officials are expected to be part of Obama’s team, although political observers said he is committed to having a diverse, bipartisan group that will bring a fresh face to Washington.

The fashion industry was particularly interested in who would fill key trade and economic slots overseeing billions of dollars worth of trade and global commerce. Obama stressed a new approach to trade on the campaign trail, saying he would hold China accountable for unfair trade practices and promising to employ new environmental and labor standards in trading pacts.

Those inside and outside the fashion industry felt beyond Obama’s stance on the issues, which rang true with voters, his image as a new American president that can bring leadership to the country and lift the nation’s standing around the world were what made his candidacy so appealing. European leaders and newspapers reveled in Obama’s victory as marking a new relationship with the U.S. “Mister President” was the title of Le Monde’s 12-page supplement that included a photo journey of Obama’s road to achieve what the intellectual daily called a “Democratic tidal wave.” It also included a story devoted to Michelle Obama, “the youngest first lady since Jackie Kennedy.”

The exuberance was high for the next First Lady, whom people expect to bring a fresh vigor and persona to the White House and serve as a role model to young women. As Oscar de la Renta said, “The eyes of the world will be on her. She will have a big impact. Obviously, she’s a professional and she manages the life of a mom in an extraordinary way.”

Here, a look at the next administration — from who might be in the President-elect’s cabinet to the international reaction to the election of the first African-American president in U.S. history and what the style of the Obama White House might be.

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