The Fashion Statement: The Obama Effect
Michelle Obama seems to be single-handedly thrusting unknown designers into the fashion stratosphere. First, there was Jason Wu who, before the now infamous Inaugural Gown, was known only in fashion circles.
Sophie Théallet is the latest no-name to get noticed arguably from being a favorite of today's jackpot when it comes to celebrity endorsements, the First Lady. Earlier this week the French-born designer, who specializes in boho-luxe designs (read: very expensive and pretty hippie-like dresses), won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund which gives $200,000 to deserving upstart designers. While the honor is voted upon by members of the CFDA, it certainly didn't hurt that only months before, Michelle Obama wore Théallet's dresses to a number of events including Senator Edward Kennedy's funeral.
So who is Sophie Théallet? Turns out, she's one of those behind-the-scenes stars of the design world. According to her bio, she was tapped by Parisian department store Le Printemps to design her own collection right out of design school. After that, she paid her dues as an assistant designer to Jean-Paul Gaultier and Azzedine Alaïa where she was dubbed his right hand woman.
Three years ago, she moved to New York and started freelancing for various fashion brands. In 2005, she launched resort line Motu Tane with beauty guru Francois Nars.
Gallery: Sophie Theallet Fashion Statement
We'll never know whether Théallet would have made fashion headlines on her own, had it not been for Obama and other famous friends. Still, I applaud her success as well as other designers who are enjoying the Obama effect. They include Maria Pinto, Thakoon, Narciso Rodriguez and Isabel Toledo.
The designers Obama supports may not all be American, but they are all U.S.-based. They are small and unknown (thanks to her knowledgeable stylists at Ikram in Chicago). It is very difficult for small designers to gain traction even in robust times, so this support is crucial. At the very least, it fills their press seats during fashion week.
Obama's incited some criticism from big-name houses who want steady endorsements like other of A-listers Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie and Sienna Miller. But Obama gives a lot to the little guy. If this is democracy at work, I like her style.