Can Michelle Obama Save Fashion Industry?

Fashion industry hopes stylish first lady-to-be will inspire buyers to buy more.

ByABC News
November 19, 2008, 5:03 PM

Nov. 20, 2008— -- Michelle Obama will soon be the nation's first lady and mom in chief, but others are expecting even grander things from her, like saving the fashion industry.

The flagging fashion industry, for one, is hoping that the future first lady will inspire women to keep on buying despite the dour economy.

"We're all obviously trying to look at the silver lining," designer Norma Kamali told "Where do we look for hope, an opportunity to create good feelings for the customer? There is real hope with Michelle Obama. I think she can keep women interested in purchasing."

Obama's name surfaced at a recent meeting of The Fashion Group International, a professional organization for members of the fashion industry. The topic of discussion was the economy, and one member wondered aloud whether Obama could bolster the industry during the current economic downturn.

"I think she will absolutely impact the fashion industry," Kamali said. "She represents a real woman, a real woman's body, a real woman's lifestyle. She will purchase clothing that represents what women should be buying or wearing. She's not going to dress in a dowdy way. She's going to want to feel good like every woman and be very practical and sensible in her purchases."

Obama has already demonstrated a certain sensibility in the way she chooses her clothing. When she appeared on "The Tonight Show" last month amid revelations that a $150,000 wardrobe had been purchased for Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Obama told host Jay Leno that she and her husband have a policy of purchasing their clothes.

She pointed out her ensemble: Her yellow cardigan, printed yellow and brown blouse and pencil skirt was purchased online from J. Crew and got cheers from the audience.

"You can get some good stuff online," she said. "When you don't have time, you've got to click."

J. Crew acted swiftly to capitalize on Obama's unexpected endorsement. Its Web site promoted her outfit, which cost $414, on a page that said: "All politics aside…this outfit gets our vote."

What is clear is that both fashion insiders and armchair critics are paying attention to what Obama is wearing.

"We will finally have a true modern-style icon back in the White House," said Jayne Chase, one of the co-hosts of the radio show "A Fashionable Life," which airs on WGCH 1490-AM in Greenwich, Conn., as well as the Web. "She's going to bring affordable American sportswear into the forefront, not that she won't wear designers, but she's also going to bring smart, professional-looking outfits into the White House. That's who she is, a working mom. That's her style and I think that's exciting for a lot of women and that's going to be good for the fashion industry."

"She's buying off the rack, which I think a lot of first ladies haven't done for a long time," Chase said. "The fact that she's wearing J. Crew is great. It's a go-to resource for weekend wear as well as working women. They have a rainbow of colors of cashmere sweaters [for $178] that are fantastic."

Kamali also believes Obama is on her way to becoming a style icon, though a different one from Jackie Kennedy, the first lady she is most often compared to when it comes to her fashion sense.

"I think Michelle's style is so approachable and so much like ours," said Kamali, who recently launched a less expensive NK line for Wal-Mart. "She will have a lot of variety and opportunities to show the many sides of a woman. We're going to see her in workout clothes and clothes that fit the lifestyle of a real American woman. I think it's beyond a shift dress."

Chase agreed. "She'll look great in Michael Kors couture and J. Crew," she said. "She's going to be able to span the horizon."

She is especially excited that Obama tends to favor American designers, like Chicago-based Maria Pinto, who designed the purple shift dress Obama wore the day she bumped fists with her husband, and Narciso Rodriguez, whose flame-red dress she wore on the night her husband was elected.