New School News

Parsons Alumni Help Make Michelle Obama a Fashion Icon

Not since Jacqueline Kennedy has there been a First Lady who has shown as much of an interest in politics as she has in the arts, fashion, and culture.

In the decade since her husband, Barack Obama, announced that he would run for president, Michelle Obama has evolved into a style icon. She mixed classic and elegant outfits with casual, youthful pieces that spoke to a wide range of Americans.

Deftly navigating the fickle waters of the fashion industry over the last decade, Mrs. Obama turned time and time again to accomplished alumni from The New School’s Parsons School of Design, wearing everyone from Tom Ford and Donna Karan to Laura Smalls and Jason Wu.

For Mrs. Obama, fashion wasn’t just about turning heads. During her eight years as FLOTUS, she used her style choices to bridge borders and honor international relationships, as when she wore a dress by Korean-American designer Doo-Ri Chung, BFA Fashion Design ’95, to a state dinner with the president of South Korea. When she attended a dinner at Buckingham Palace, Mrs. Obama wore a white dress designed by Tom Ford, Environmental Design ’86, whose label was based in London at the time.

While many of her fashion choices for state dinners and international visits were beautiful yet conservative, Mrs. Obama knew how to let loose. She loved showing off her toned arms in casual dresses, as she did when she wore pieces by Chris Benz, BFA Fashion Design ’04, and embracing bold prints. She was equally chic in tailored Narciso Rodriguez (BFA Fashion Design, 82) dresses as she was in loose, casual pieces from J.Crew.

Over the last decade, Mrs. Obama has looked to Parsons alumni —  from designers at the helm of global businesses, to smaller, independent designers who were just starting their careers — to realize her unique style. Parsons alumni were more than happy to oblige — and, in doing so, help make history.

“My joy really comes from dressing her because it’s historic,” Laura Smalls, BFA Fashion ’76, told Fashionista. “I’m really a Barack fan, an Obama family fan, so I can’t say enough!”

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