Feb. 23, 2011— -- A White House secret is out: Michelle Obama takes her fashion cues from a 29-year-old Midwest clothier whose primary focus is making the first lady look fabulous.
While Obama has insisted that she dresses herself, a recent report has forced the White House to confirm that she gets wardrobe help from Meredith Koop, a stylist who had worked for Obama's previous unofficial stylist, Ikram Goldman.
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Goldman, a celebrated fashionista and the owner of an exclusive Chicago boutique, was widely viewed as Obama's dresser-in-chief. She hand-picked an ivory chiffon Jason Wu gown for President Obama's inaugural, along with other iconic looks. Goldman also sent Koop, her protege, to work with Obama as her assistant. In recent months, however, rumors began circulating that Koop had taken over and Goldman was out.
Confirmation came after Koop's hair colorist, Vera Chamberlin, blabbed to a reporter that Koop seemed to be in charge of picking Obama's wardrobe. Chamberlin said in a story published Monday in the Washington Post that when Koop was in her chair she'd take calls on her mobile phone regarding clothes she was ordering for the first lady
Chamberlin, who works at Immortal Beloved, a D.C. salon near Logan Circle, told the paper that Koop lamented she could not go to shows on the fashion circuit because she needed to "focus on what is right for the first lady."
From Koop, Chamberlin learned that she was charged with choosing that hats Obama and her daughters would wear at the Kentucky Derby, and the dresses they would wear to meet Queen Elizabeth II. She also talked about Koop's flair for understanding how one should "dress for your shape."
Chamberlin did not return a phone call from ABCNews seeking comment.
Since Chamberlain's comments were published, the White House has been inundated with media inquiries about the role Koop plays in dressing the first lady. It's a delicate topic, especially during a time of national austerity when Congress and the president are in a verbal tug-of-war over where to cut tens of billions from the federal budget.
White House Mum
The White House did not reveal much.
In an e-mailed response to questions from ABC News, Kristina Schake, Michelle Obama's spokeswoman, confirmed that Koop's "responsibilities include advising the first lady on her wardrobe and acting on her behalf in arranging for purchases, including considering the best offered price, and buying on discount if discounts are available."
But Schake also tried to cast Koop's job in more general terms, saying, "Meredith Koop's role calls for direct support to the first lady in the residence. She assists Mrs. Obama in managing the demands on her time and schedule, along with other day-to-day requirements for keeping the residence running smoothly."
Unlike the president, who just needs well-tailored suits, the first lady's outfits require effort and thought. For a speech, she may wear a bright-colored pants suit; for a state dinner, a gown is more appropriate. Regardless of what she wears, people will comment on everything from the fabric, design and color to who the designer is.
Last month, designers Diane Von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta criticized the first lady for wearing a British-label dress to a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. "My understanding is that the visit was to promote American-Chinese trade. American products in China and Chinese products in America," de la Renta told Women's Wear Daily. "Why do you wear European clothes?"
During an interview with Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America," Obama defended the gown, designed by the house of the late Alexander McQueen, saying, "Look, women, wear what you love. That's all I can say. That's my motto. I wear what I like because I've got to be in the dress."