The documentary spin-off of Michelle Obama’s best-selling memoir “Becoming” hit Netflix on Wednesday. In addition to chronicling the former first lady’s 34-city book tour, family history, relationship history with husband, Barack, her circle of confidantes, and intimate encounters mentoring young people, the film also addresses her famous fashion sense.
Even before Barack Obama was elected president, Michelle made headlines for her fashion choices, choosing to wear looks by such independent American designers as Narciso Rodriguez and Thakoon Panichgul. Once in office, she put Jason Wu on the map, when she chose the young designer to make her inaugural gown, and her support of the industry continued during the two presidential terms, when she hosted a fashion education workshop at the White House. She also had the power to move lower-priced clothing from J. Crew, Talbots and Target, which she mixed into her wardrobe alongside her signature Azzedine Alaïa belts and Lanvin sneakers, inspiring women to copy her looks.
One of the first things you notice in the film is Obama’s powder blue manicure, as well as her “Becoming” nameplate necklace. Brother Craig Robinson teases her at one point about one of her wide belts. “Is that the style now?” he asks. There are also several interstitials of hair and makeup touch-ups, as she preps to go on-stage for interviews with Stephen Colbert, Gayle King, Tracee Ellis Ross, Conan O’Brien and more.
Then, about an hour into the film, there’s a segment that tackles the subject of fashion head-on, spotlighting Obama’s longtime stylist, Meredith Koop, who dressed the former first lady while she was in the White House, and during the book tour, where she wore glitzy pants suits by Christopher John Rogers, Elie Saab, Stine Goya, Dundas, Roksanda and more, as well as crystal-covered Balenciaga diva boots that made international headlines. (“When I look at this suit, I do see Elvis…and I don’t have a problem with that,” Koop said of a rhinestone-embroidered “Becoming” tour pants suit.)
“I was watching myself being exposed to the world, and I had to become strategic about how I presented myself because it had the potential to define me for the rest of my life,” Obama said of how she learned to craft her look. “Fashion for a woman predominates how people view you. That’s not fair, that’s not right but it’s true. That’s when fashion isn’t just fashion, it’s how you turn it into your tool rather than being a victim of it….I would make some impassioned speech and they would say she’s wearing an interesting designer dress. So it was OK, let’s embrace the fact people are looking at my shoes and not just highlight me and the clothes but who we wanted to be as an administration — forward-thinking, embracing youth, embracing diversity.”
Of style architect Koop, Obama said, “She’s like my sister, daughter, friend, everything.”
“People have these ideas of a first lady look…I felt a lot of my work in the White House was more like costume design, dressing her and her children for this role,” Koop explained.
Once the Obamas left the White House, the former first lady shared that she has felt even more license to have fun with clothes, “not to be viewed, judged and parceled by every other person on the planet, yeah, it’s better. It’s absolutely freeing.”