At the state dinner last week honoring Chinese president Hu Jintao, Michelle Obama chose to wear a stunning red Alexander McQueen gown. The dress was a hit among the fashion set, but American designer Oscar de la Renta cried foul, claiming the First Lady should have worn an American designer for the politically-charged event.
CFDA believes in promoting American fashion. Our First Lady Michelle Obama has been wonderful at promoting our designers, so we were surprised and a little disappointed not to be represented for this major state dinner.
CFDA executive director Steven Kolb did acknowledge Obama's emphasis on celebrating American designers in general, especially younger ones (for whom a credit in the First Lady's wardrobe represents a huge business boon and confidence boost). Famous examples of homegrown talent have included Obama's Jason Wu inaugural gown and outfits from the likes of Isabel Toledo to J. Crew. That said, Kolb stressed that putting young American designers in the spotlight is a huge priority for the CFDA:
For a lot of designers, their ability to grow their businesses is going to be in the global marketplace. In some instances, there’s really no growth in the U.S. and [these designers] need to do that to succeed. That's important to us. So anytime that there’s a stage or international setting that you can celebrate American fashion, it's a good thing.
The distinction Kolb stressed was between public and private wardrobe choices. While the executive director stressed that the First Lady was welcome to make her own choices in terms of what suited her as a women overall, the Obamas have a certain set of "preferences" to consider: “For the President and First Lady, part of that is spotlighting America, American jobs, American industry, American innovation. She can do that.”