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Michelle, ma belle: A tour of the First Lady's wardrobe

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

She came, she wore, she conquered: Michelle Obama's trip to Europe has been a PR and style coup. Even Thursday's ill-judged ensemble – in the form of an asymmetric golfing cardigan and dirndl skirt – couldn't detract from a catwalk-worthy parade of outfits that made the G20 and Nato summits rivals for the Oscars in the fashion stakes. No wonder the Queen wanted to hug her.
The secret of Mrs Obama's success has been picking outfits that are stylish, but not contrived or elitist. On Wednesday she chose an outfit from the American high street chain J Crew, which underlined her Everywoman credentials, partly because it was affordable and partly because the ensemble made her look fresh and approachable. She has even been showing her sensitivity to the global recession, and the importance of recycling, by wearing the same double rope of pearls over and over again.
However, while we might like to think that Mrs Obama is "one of us" that doesn't mean we want to see her in head-to-toe Wal-Mart. There is a fine line between down to earth and dowdy, and yesterday she was back in designer labels. Unfortunately Sarah Brown, whose outfits have otherwise been underwhelming, but safely elegant, chose to leave Heathrow for Strasbourg in a red cotton jacket and denim skirt that looked as if it was from the Primark sale.
While Mrs Brown might not provide the stiffest competition for the most stylish political WAG, the First Lady of France and former supermodel Carla Bruni is surely the one to beat. With the esteemed French couture house of Christian Dior at her manicured fingertips, Mme Bruni has a head start and she chose a grey velvet lambskin coat by the label. Both Mrs Obama and Mme Bruni are tall, but while Mrs Obama wears low heels regardless – after all her husband is over six foot – Mme Bruni accessorises her demure outfits, and her shorter husband, with flats. The two women chose wildly different colours – for their meeting in Strasbourg Mrs Obama favoured a hot pink shift dress by the US designer Thakoon, while, characteristically, Mme Bruni opted for a muted dove grey, but the one thing they agreed on was that the pussy bow is the must-have neck accessory for first ladies. Any resemblance to Margaret Thatcher's signature blouses was purely coincidental.
Equally coincidental was the fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mrs Obama both chose to wear pink in Baden Baden, the German town that last hit the fashion headlines when the England footballers' other halves descended on it in 2006. The two occasions couldn't have been more different.

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