How can you blame First Lady Michelle Obama for once again wearing an Inaugural gown by Jason Wu, a designer so exquisitely capable of capturing her energy and beauty? The fashion world reacted with surprise (“gobsmacked,” is how fashion critic Robin Givhan described it to CNN) that Mrs. Obama didn’t give some other aspiring talent the same incredible opportunity she afforded Wu four years ago. And certainly, that would have been a generous statement. But Wu’s story has become part of the fabric of this presidency. There’s something to be said for loyalty, for celebrating success. And, it was simply a gorgeous dress: a dazzling ruby red velvet and chiffon that cinched the First Lady’s waist, flattered her shoulders and showed off those impressive pipes.
It could be said that the red dress represents the strength, determination and hard work of their parallel stories—the Obamas and, yes, the designer, who has worked non-stop to seize the opportunities he’s been given since the last Inaugural Ball—always with good taste and conviction. When I had the opportunity to sit down with Wu last spring for the cover of Delta Sky Magazine and discuss the trajectory he’s been riding these past four years, I was struck by his self awareness. Runway fashion is the inspiration and sets the tone, but Wu sees the relevance of mass market—not as the inevitable price a designer must pay to create $5,000 dresses, but rather, as its own important challenge. It’s why he’s been successful designing $40 skirts for Target, $400 dresses for Nordstrom…and even bathroom faucets. Mrs. Obama, who has worn pieces from virtually every collection Wu has produced these past four years—both discount and custom—recognizes, respects and embodies Wu’s democratic approach to fashion. And ultimately, he makes her feel beautiful, which is really what fashion is all about.