Michelle Obama Stages Her Own London Fashion Week


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Michelle Obama, left, wearing a dress from Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, arrived in Britain with her daughters Malia and Sasha.

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Matt Dunham/Associated Press

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In Mary Katrantzou, at the Mulberry School for Girls in east London.

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Matt Dunham/Associated Press

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And in Christopher Kane, for a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha.

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Darren Staples/Reuters

For the past two days, Michelle Obama, her mother and her two daughters have been in London promoting the Let Girls Learn initiative and doing some outreach via Britain’s fashion industry on the side. It’s been a pretty effective demonstration of diplomatic multitasking.

Since landing on Monday, Mrs. Obama has worn clothes from three different London-based designers: Preen by Thornton Bregazzi when disembarking the plane; Mary Katrantzou while visiting a school and having tea with Prince Harry; and Christopher Kane while meeting Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha.

That’s a lot of very specific fashion to pack into a relatively short visit and a clear show of support, especially because these brands are not widely stocked in the United States. Mary Katrantzou is sold in 10 stores on the entire East Coast, for example. Christopher Kane has five.

The designers Mrs. Obama chose, while meaningful names on the London Fashion Week schedule, are all trying to break through internationally. Her stamp of approval is not an insignificant asset.

And though matching clothes to country is in line with her appearance in Tadashi Shoji at a state dinner at the White House for Japan’s prime minister in April, the all-British-brands-all-the-time approach is a marked departure from her approach during a visit to London in 2011.

At that time, the first lady wore creations of the American designers Barbara Tfank, Narciso Rodriguez and Tracy Reese; the London-based labels Alexander McQueen and Roksanda Ilincic; and a gown by Tom Ford to the state dinner at Buckingham Palace (whether Mr. Ford, an American whose business in based in London, should now be considered a British or American designer is an open question).

So why the change? Maybe it has to do with term one versus term two for President Obama, and with solidifying international relations, the better to work on legacy questions. Maybe it’s about strategically using all the attention paid to what she wears to the benefit of brands throughout the world. Maybe it’s just good diplomacy.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out on the next leg of her trip, in Italy.

Correction: June 17, 2015

An earlier version of this article misidentified the state dinner at which Michelle Obama wore a design by Tadashi Shoji. It was a state dinner at the White House for Japan’s prime minister, not a state dinner in Japan.



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