Photos: Fashionistas abuzz over Michelle Obama's inaugural gown
Published: Tuesday January 20, 2009

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Fashionistas are buzzing with excitement over the ball gown Michelle Obama will wear as the next first lady of the United States after her husband's inauguration Tuesday as the 44th president.

"Just about everyone yearns to dress Michelle, who could raise the profile of American fashion around the world," said Women's Wear Daily senior editor Bobbi Queen.

The lucky designer: Taipei-native, New York-based Jason Wu.

Obama, 44, has already been named a fashion icon by magazine editors, fashion designers and a flurry of bloggers. Her fashion sense first took center stage when she was photographed by Vogue magazine in autumn 2007.

She has already demonstrated a keen ability to shift seamlessly between designer attire, including Chicago designers Maria Pinto, Thakoon and Narciso Rodriguez, and mass market brands such as H&M, J. Crew and Gap.

Obama harbors a modern, elegant style and does not hesitate to wear colors, and shuns putting on airs.

"She can go from more classic looks to a little bit more avant-garde. She certainly has the stature and look for this," Queen ventured. Standing at 1.82 meters (6 feet) tall, Obama is both slender and shapely.

WWD has invited several designers to present the dream attire for Obama on the magazine's website. Participating designers include Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix, who drew three attires, including a black sheath dress with long satin gloves with a bright red cape.

"We have had 3 or 4 million hits (on the website), we run every news station, we had calls from Europe. Everybody seems fascinated," Queen said.

The Washington Post also launched a contest for its readers to propose original designs for Obama's inaugural ball.

"We did get quite a lot of interest in the competition, almost 200 entries," the newspaper's fashion critic Robin Givhan told AFP.

"There is an incredible amount of enthusiasm, and what was nice to see was that there were a lot of drawings from young children."

Wu, as it turns out, is now a recurring favorite of the First Lady. After she selected one of his dresses for an interview with Barbra Walters, the Wall St. Journal asked what he thought the chances are of him landing the inaugural ball gown.

"Oh, that's a long shot!" he exclaimed.

Bruce Buchanan, a history professor from the University of Texas at Austin, cited "the extent to which the first lady through her choice of apparel conveys what the administration would regard as the right message about her ambitions, her taste, her sense of stature, her aura of elegance."

Michelle Obama's dress on the night of her husband's historic election on November 4 had its critics. Worn in Chicago's Hyde Park, the dress by Narcisco Rodriguez was black with two large red spots.

"The first lady is a balancing act between being a queen and a commoner," said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, who has written extensively about first ladies. "The inaugural gown is a metaphor for the first lady role."

But when it comes to distinction and elegance at the White House, fashion heads turn to Jackie Kennedy, who has yet to be outdone by her successors.

"The most striking model of the 20th century is Jacqueline Kennedy -- pure elegance with the French style to it," Buchanan said. As for the glamour of inaugural gowns, "Jackie Kennedy set that standard. Jackie began the fascination that extends to Michelle."

In 1961, John F. Kennedy's spouse wore a long, sleeveless, light-colored attire with a cape that she had helped design.

But "Jackie Kennedy was not perfect," Givhan argued. "We always forget about the fashion mistakes that Jackie made."

Givhan recalled how "Jackie O" had shown up at a religious service on Good Friday in the early 1960s sleeveless and wearing only a scarf on her head.