First Lady's Passion for Fashion Earns Kudos, Makes Unknown Designers Overnight Celebs

"This is a woman, after all, who regularly wears [expensive] Jimmy Choos. If that's your price point, these shoes are no big deal," she said in an e-mail to ABC News in May.

It's not just the price of her duds that can earn Obama a thumbs down from fashion critics. She took some heat this summer for sporting casual shorts during a family trip to the Grand Canyon in August. The temperatures were hot in the desert but that didn't stop critics from decrying the high hemline of the shorts, deeming it unbecoming for a first lady, even one as young as Obama.

In one year alone, Obama has turned lesser-known U.S. and European designers into overnight sensations by sporting their merchandise.

Obama's handmade gold strapless dress for the administration's first state dinner, held in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was designed by an Indian-American, Naeem Khan, who became an instant hit.

Khan told the Wall Street Journal that he was the third-most searched person on Google after the first lady wore his gown.

Her one-shoulder white gown for the evening of inaugural balls was designed by Wu, a 26-year old designer who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the first lady and the president stepped on stage for their first dance.

Obama has not faced heavy criticism for flirting with non-U.S. designers. Her ice-blue gown for the Nobel Peace Prize banquet in Oslo last month was designed by the Tunisian-born Azzedine Alaia.

Toledo, who designed her Inauguration Day dress and jacket, is from Cuba.

Obama has "done a great deal to bolster the American fashion industry, wearing a wide range of designers and recognizing young American design talent," which spares her criticism at home, blogger Tomer said

"The degree to which she has supported American fashion designers has perhaps afforded her the flexibility to wear European and Japanese designers from time to time without controversy," she said.

U.S. Women Relate to Obama Through Fashion

Tomer also doesn't believe there is the same "nationalistic demands" on fashion that may have been around when Jacqueline Kennedy was first lady [in the early 1960s].

Similarly, fashion editor Givhan said, the first lady has escaped criticism for her dips into high-end fashion because of the labels she has selected.

"She's been kind of smart in the people that she's chosen when she's gone high-end, because she hasn't gone for the kind of flashy sort of logo-oriented designers," Givhan said.

Whatever Obama's preferences, an official in the her office said, the first lady is subject to the same gift rules as West Wing staffers, meaning she cannot accept freebies from designers looking to dress her.

Tomer decried what she said was at times a "frivolous" portrayal of the first lady's style and said that looking at her fashion decisions that way "overlooks and undervalues the true power of her style.

"Through fashion, millions of women have been able to relate to Michelle Obama," she said. "As she has traveled overseas, she has improved perceptions of American culture, and certainly her style has been a part of that."

ABC News' Yunji de Nies contributed to this report.

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