HOW MUCH CAN A PRETTY DRESS DO?

Friday, February 13, 2009

First Ladies are known to dress with definite purpose. And an endorsement by them can help any fashion label beat recession blues

Barack Obama seems to have ushered in an era of hope. Every thing he does, every word he speaks, attracts huge feedback. There seems to be one more thing that generates similar response and that’s his wife Michelle Obama’s presence next to him. As the world hung on to every word that Obama spoke, it was Mrs. Obama’s dress that was driving people everywhere from fashion magazines to Internet chat rooms – in a total frenzy. Her black sheath dress with splashes of red had everyone commenting or her style. Some hated it and some loved it and, some called it “the look of victory”. For according to many, the Obama’s don’t do anything just for the sake of it – there is always a purpose. As the London Times fashion editor said, “You may like or dislike Michelle Obama’s dress but that’s not as interesting as the agenda behind it, because you can be sure there was one.” She may not be wrong, for the entire Obama family was colour coordinated. It was probably the most well choreographed First Family Elect Appearances in history with Barack Obama’s tie and his daughter’s (Malia and Sasha) red and black clothes matching Michelle’s dress! According to some, the red & black combination symbolised two things – black for mourning for Obama’s grandmother who died on the eve of the election while red stood for passion!

It is said that it was not a mere coincidence why Barack Obama chose Hart Schaffner Mart to make the suit he wore to accept the Democratic nomination for President. The company is one of the few that can claim their products are made in America. For a man who has always so vociferously opposed outsourcing of jobs, this was an interesting way of making his point. Keeping the same logic in mind, it is argued that Michelle Obama prefers to wear clothes by Chicago-based designer Maria Pinto, for Pinto built her brand from scratch and made it a success. She represented the American dream – a country where you could realise your dreams. Come to think of it, you thought clothes were just meant to make one look good – well they do a lot more than that.

DRESSED TO WIN

The First Lady with her simple and clean style seems to have won the nation over. She seems to have well understood the power of clothes and used it to her favour. Michelle Obama has an uncanny knack of understanding what appeals to the masses. Her choice of dresses has made it clear that she believes in looking stylish and also advancing the cause of American fashion. She appeared on the very popular TV show “The View” wearing a simple dress picked off the rack from a retail chain named “White House Black Market” (symbolic again!). Women came in droves to the retail chain store demanding the $148 dress. For the swearing-in ceremony, Mrs. Obama wore a lemon-grass outfit designed by, not Versace or Ralph Lauren, but a Cuban-American nobody, Isabel Toledo. From the choice of the designer to the choice of colour, everything seemed to emphasise her husband’s speech which said, “We are going to do things differently now.” Some even said it sent a message about a favorable foreign policy vis-à-vis Cuba. Some people sure know how to make their clothes work for them.

HOPE FOR THE RETAIL INDUSTRY?

The global economic crisis has made everyone sit up and tighten their belts. The fashion industry is no exception – with people spending more cautiously. Fashion experts worldwide have quickly changed their selling strategy by promoting “Investment” pieces, that is classic styles, which always remain in fashion. Michelle Obama, with her classic styles and good fashion sensibility that has a mass appeal seems to be emerging as a sign of “hope” on whom a lot of designers and retailers are now pinning their dreams.

Think about it; a dress from “GAP” sold out hours after she was seen wearing it. Many went and bought an “H&M” dress worn by her during the presidential election campaign. Michelle Obama could just be the American fashion industry’s biggest catch. In fact, the whole Obama family seems to be setting trends. After the Obama girls were seen in outfits from the kids line of “J.Crew”, the retailer’s web site was down for about half an hour as shoppers rushed to scoop up the clothes worn by them.

THE FIRST LADIES OF FASHION

Nearly half a century ago, a similar frenzy was created in the world of fashion, when John F. Kennedy became President and 31-year-old Jacqueline Kennedy the First Lady. An entire generation of women imitated the “Jackie look”. Fashion has been used by these lovely First Ladies to express themselves and sometimes even improve diplomatic relations between countries. Jackie Kennedy used her fashion to charm Americans & Europeans. She loved French fashion but knew it would not go down well with the American public, so she switched designers. For First Ladies, it’s not just enough to dress well, but rather dress “correctly”, which matters most. If Jackie could charm the two most crustiest leaders of the world – France’s Charles de Gaulle and Russia’s Nikita Krushchev, then it was the very controversial French First Lady Carla Bruni who won over the uptight British. How did she do it? Probably it was her clothes, which were so cleverly French (Dior) with a British twist (Dior’s designer is a British). Legendary First Ladies have been those who have been able to dominate headlines with intelligent dressing – think of Grace Kelly, Eva Peron – so beautiful, so lovely – all First Ladies of fashion.

BETTER THAN CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS

Carla Sarkozy is French fashion’s secret weapon. She showed what a diplomatically correct wardrobe can do. Her perfectly planned wardrobe made sure people forgot about her scandalous past, her nude photograph and much more. She has catapulted her status from the First Lady to world’s no. 1 style icon. Any brand she touches, any designer she sets her eyes on – it will turn to gold.

Marketers can just pray that some First Lady takes a fancy for their label. It would be enough for them to beat the recession. This time around, celebrity endorsements just don’t seem to be working. Kellogg’s had signed up with Michael Phelps. However when Anderson Cooper raided Phelps cabinet as part of his TV show “60 Minutes” interview he discovered a box of Honey Nut Cheerios – Kellogg’s biggest competitor! Kellogg’s has now decided to drop him & not renew the contract, which expires at the end of this month. Recently Tiger Woods (one of the most popular celebrity endorsees) ended his 9-year-old endorsement deal with GM. This was GM’s way of reducing its spending. The endorsement deal was worth $7 million a year and GM needs to save every precious penny. It is a difficult economy and every marketer is searching for budget efficiencies. During such times, many, especially clothes retailers would be turning to the First Ladies, wishing to be picked up by them. For it’s proved that they are the best endorsers a product can get. Next time you see a well turned out lady, think how much can a pretty dress do.