At a “Sunday With the Magazine” talk yesterday at the Times Center, Narciso Rodriguez said he’s offended by the suggestion that Michelle Obama should wear “bigger names” instead of the young designers and smaller labels she favors. “It’s ridiculous and outrageous. How dare anybody tell the First Lady what to wear. How dare anybody tell any woman what to wear,” Rodriguez told Cathy Horyn, who moderated a discussion that included two of Michelle’s other favorite designers, Maria Cornejo and Thakoon Panichgul. Cornejo agreed with Rodriguez, calling those big names “the dinosaurs of Seventh Avenue.” Horyn chalked up the criticism to “sour grapes,” citing Ralph Lauren as a designer Obama has neglected. Rodriguez felt similarly peeved by claims that Obama was “underdressed” when she met the Queen of England. “I don’t like the Queen’s pink dress!” he countered.
Ever the MObama champions, their defenses of the First Lady didn’t stop there. Cornejo defended Michelle’s decision to wear expensive clothes when Horyn brought up the $500 Lanvin sneakers she wore to a food bank. “Obama’s a career woman. If she wants to spend her money on clothes, why not?” Cornejo said to audience applause.
The designers noted that despite the expensive clothes, MObama’s authenticity defines her appeal. “Obama is playful, and she doesn’t always get it right — like real women,” Cornejo said. Horyn pointed out that most First Ladies wore clothes that made them “invisible”; Cornejo noted that look had a “Stepford” feel to it. Rodriguez recalled the cardigan Michelle wore over her now-infamous election-night dress, which she threw on simply because she was cold. “She was being real,” he said. He also applauds her for wearing pieces more than once if she feels like it. Cornejo added, “[Obama] will get criticism no matter what choices she makes. I admire her because she doesn’t give in to that criticism.”
The designers are still working with Michelle’s stylist, Ikram Goldman, owner of Ikram boutique in Chicago. Ikram tells the designers to “trust themselves,” since Obama already likes their designs. But they never know if or when Obama will wear their pieces. In the meantime, they’ll sit back and enjoy the publicity and invaluable boost in business.