Michelle Obama caught another designer unawares Wednesday when she wore a Tracy Feith dress to the multidenominational prayer service the new First Lady and her husband President Barack Obama attended at Washington National Cathedral.
This story first appeared in the January 22, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I’m here at my Target preview, then there’s all this stuff happening,” Feith said, referring to the Go International collection he designed for the retailer, which launches in May. “I got a call from my office. They were watching online. Someone from Vogue was being interviewed about ‘Who is this person?’”
The First Lady wore a Tracy Feith dress during the campaign. The black dress with a violet, green and silver Japanese-style print she wore Wednesday was purchased at Ikram, a specialty store in Chicago, along with another dress, Feith said. “Other designers do more p.r. and give things away. We don’t send clothes to people we don’t know. I believe she did buy them. I don’t think Ikram [Goldman, the store’s owner] would just give the dresses to her. We have a really close relationship with the store. ”
Wednesday’s dress has a gathered open neckline, ruched cummerbund at the waist, draped bodice and full, gathered skirt. “There’s volume to it, but it’s controlled volume,” Feith said. Obama admired another dress at Ikram that needed some alterations. “The length wasn’t right,” Feith said. “We changed the length but then the proportions weren’t right, so I fussed with it.”
Seeing the First Lady wearing his creation is a heady experience. “It’s very exciting,” Feith said. “We’re pretty independent as a company. We’re not doing a runway show. We have our word of mouth.” The designer added that Obama “likes things that are feminine but somewhat adventurous. She’s not afraid of those things.”
Michelle Obama has good taste and won’t be dictated to by so-called style arbiters, Feith said. “She’s not letting people just make suggestions,” he said. “She’s like the Jackie O of our time.”
“It was a real thrill for us in our little-engine-that-could company to see our First Lady in Tracy’s dress and to receive such quick recognition,” said Feith’s partner, Susan Winget. “We are beyond flattered.”
Feith said it’s nice to see other young and less well-known designers getting recognition. “I had my first runway show at the Supper Club,” he said. “Isabel [Toledo] had her show there too. We both rented the place.”
While Michelle Obama doesn’t swallow the advice of fashion gurus whole, Goldman has emerged as her trusted counsel on sartorial matters.
Karen Erickson, designer of Erickson Beamon, said it’s not hard to understand why the First Lady would want to work with Ikram. “She’s amazing,” Erickson said. “She’s gentle and jovial and smart. She has the best store in Chicago. Shopping anywhere else doesn’t make sense. Everyone sells the same things. Specialty stores have special things. Most of the time people prefer specialty stores because of the attention and service.”
It appears Obama sometimes purchases items at Ikram off the rack. Other times, designers create products with her in mind and send them to Ikram with the hope they’ll catch Obama’s eye. Erickson said she customizes pieces for Obama at Ikram’s request. Examples include the flowers, broaches, pearls and crystal belts Obama wore during the Democratic convention. “We send things back and forth to [Obama] in Chicago through Ikram,” Erickson said. “Ikram is pretty specific. We do custom things all the time. Ikram gives me inspiration. She’s inspirational.”
Erickson hinted that she may be working on more jewelry for Obama.�