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Posted by on Dec 6, 2008 in Society | 0 comments

WWD: Sketching Michelle Obama

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Women’s Wear Daily commissioned a bunch of fashion designers to imagine outfits Michelle Obama might wear to the inauguration. A good bit of the chatter the slideshow triggered was around how incapable the world’s top fashion designers are of sketching Michelle.

Slate’s Julia Turner:

The fashion world is notoriously inhospitable to black women—if Michelle Obama lands the cover of Vogue, as has been rumored, she’ll be one of the few black nonmodels ever to grace it—but these sketches suggest a discomfort with blackness that’s truly startling. Check out Karl Lagerfeld’s “Mrs. Obama”: Leaning heavily on the peach cray-pas, he produces a woman who looks more like Jackie Kennedy than Michelle. Badgley Mischka’s Michelle is a buff-colored, collagen-lipped blank; Michael Kors goes for bronze; Marc Jacobs and Koi Suwannagate both produce sketches with recognizably Michelle-shaped hair but skin that registers somewhere between alabaster and geisha. Of course, fashion sketches are stylized, not representational, which gives these designers plenty of wiggle room. (This may or may not explain why Zac Posen’s Michelle looks like a dying guppy.) But still: Is it so hard to draw a woman with black skin?

At Mother Jones, Debra Dickerson chimes in:

One hates to get all psychological…but are these artists ‘helping’ her by making her whiter (and thus ‘capable’ of beauty) or are they so squeamish in imagining a sister in couture that they have to whitewash her to make her ‘worthy’ of high fashion?

And back at Slate, Marjorie Valbrun:

Why is she frowning in every sketch? Doesn’t she have every reason to be happy? After all, her husband is the soon-to-be leader of the free world. You’d think the new first lady is smile-challenged. Same goes for Zak Posen’s scowling, slouching Michelle, an obviously sullen black woman. They might as well have thrown in the controversial New Yorker cover sketch of Michelle as black militant for good measure. Betsy Johnson’s sketch [above] was a bit too graffiti-artisty for my taste. Maybe Johnson was going for whimsical, but it seemed to me that she was trying for an urban (read: black, or inner-city) look. Her Michelle looks out of sorts with the crazy big hair and all those distracting handwritten notes surrounding her; they might as well be graffiti tags spray-painted on a wall.

Hm. Having very little knowledge of women’s high fashion, I kind of liked it.