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Obama Girls Influence Style

Children's apparel industry looking for boost.

When it comes to the first family-elect, Michelle Obama is clearly not the only one with some style.

This story first appeared in the December 4, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


All eyes are already on Malia, 10, and Sasha, seven, and their choices in clothing have received praise from the children’s apparel industry. Whether they are dressed up on Election Night or casually attired for school, designers said their style is approachable and something that young girls can look up to.

“When the Bush family entered the White House, [twins] Jenna and Barbara were older and already had their styles pretty well established,” said designer Lela Rose, who regularly dressed the Bush daughters and designed the dresses for Jenna’s bridesmaids. “But with the Obama girls, we will see their styles develop right before our eyes. I do think that we shouldn’t expect too much, since they are so young, but I would love to see them become not so matchy and really come into their own.”

As the family moves into the White House next month, and Malia and Sasha continue to grow into teens, children’s wear designers are watching closely to see how the girls’ fashion styles evolve.

For their Election Day, the girls headed to Nordstrom in Chicago to buy their frocks. Malia chose a red dress by Biscotti for $110 and Sasha chose a $75 Iris & Ivy dress.

“It certainly has put us into the spotlight. Customers are calling us directly, and retailers are asking for more of the dress,” said Bernadette Reiss, owner of Oakland, Calif.-based Biscotti Inc.

Reiss said she was shocked to see Malia wearing her dress. “My heart stopped when she walked out,” she said. “It was a historic moment and she was wearing our dress.”

Reiss said that, since then, business has been growing quickly. Not only is the Malia item sold out (2,000 dresses were sold), but retailers are asking for more from the company for spring.

“This is truly one of the few times in our history where children are making an impact and people are taking a genuine interest in them,” she said. “The entire Obama campaign is about youth and hope and promise, and these two girls represent something people can identify with. This can be very good for our industry.”

The dress Sasha wore also caught some attention.

“As soon as she stepped out wearing that dress, the demand for it went crazy,” said Kevin Gray, sales manager at Gerson and Gerson Inc., the makers of the Iris & Ivy brand. “The demand is so high that we are recutting the same style in a new fabric for spring.”

Ady Gluck-Frankel, owner and creative director of Necessary Objects, was also pleased when Malia wore a white-and-pink lace dress from the line for the Democratic National Convention. “What I am most impressed by is that these girls are wearing clothes that look great on them and they are clothing choices which are attainable,” she said. “Malia was wearing a dress that she bought for $68 — she wasn’t wearing a $350 dress. I think these girls are telling us that good taste has absolutely nothing to do with spending a lot of money, and that is really good news.”