The American fashion industry held its breath on Inauguration Day for a series of Big Reveals.
Word came quickly that the navy check coat and dress Michelle Obama wore to the morning prayer service at St. John's Episcopal Church was from American designer Thom Browne's pre-fall 2013 collection.
"It struck me beforehand that she could wear Democratic blue," said Simon Collins, fashion dean at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, whose alumni include Jason Wu, who designed Obama's inauguration ball gown four years ago. "Previously she might have wanted to be neutral, but now the way President Obama is asserting his Democratic values more than before, I thought perhaps blue would be a color she would wear."
The jacquard fabric of her inauguration morning dress and coat were based on a men's silk necktie, according to a White House aide. Browne is best known for the shrunken suit silhouette, with boyish high-water pants, that he introduced in menswear a few years ago. He was named the Council of Fashion Designers of America Menswear Designer of the Year in 2006.
With the Thom Browne ensemble, Obama wore a bolero-style cardigan by Reed Krakoff, who launched his eponymous brand in 2010 while remaining at the helm of Coach, which has prospered under his decade-plus of leadership.
As usual, the first lady mixed luxurious and accessible pieces. For the ceremonial swearing-in, Obama added a beaded J.Crew belt over the coat and switched out of J.Crew "Valentina" pumps ($238) into knee-high leather and suede Reed Krakoff boots (originally $1,095 at neimanmarcus.com, now sold out).
Her pearl multistrand necklace was by Cathy Waterman. Her magenta cashmere-lined leather gloves were J.Crew (originally $118, on sale for $39.99 at jcrew.com, but sold out in that color).
The first lady also wore a navy Krakoff dress Sunday for the official swearing-in at the White House.
Daughter Malia, 14, chose her plum-colored "Lady" coat and blue "Teddy" dress, both from J.Crew. Sasha, 11, wore a purple "Patrice" coat and "Carolyn" dress by Kate Spade.
Any fears that the fashion world's focus had jumped the pond to the Duchess of Cambridge were allayed on Inauguration Day.
"The novelty has worn off. We're used to the fact the first lady is cool and very stylish — but it doesn't make her any less so," Collins said. "As interest in her fashion has waned in the reactionary media, reaction from the fashion industry has grown because there is a visible effect on business. She certainly can have an effect, it's not necessarily a guarantee of success. It's a common misconception that one outfit can build a business."
Chicago-based designer Maria Pinto, who Obama wore often during the first presidential campaign, shut down her business in Chicago in 2010, citing the economic downturn and retailers' shrinking inventories.
Wu, meanwhile, has expanded his business since Obama wore his gown.
"My signature collection has had a lot of success," Wu said during a recent visit to Chicago. He just launched a contemporary collection, called Miss Wu, exclusively at Nordstrom stores and nordstrom.com. Miss Wu pieces range from $190 to $850, which is where his signature collection picks up. Although Miss Wu is for a younger customer, it retains the figure-flattering tailoring of the signature pieces that Obama has worn.
"With anything I do, I'm really in the business of dressing women," Wu said. "I don't want to create things that people can't wear."
Obama has championed that ideal in fashion, overthrowing the tyranny of the size 2 in a way that Catherine Duchess of Cambridge does not with her super-slim frame.
"Michelle Obama represents, ironically, sort of ordinary women," said Hazel Clark, a professor in Parsons fashion studies program.
Parsons has trained other designers Obama has worn, including Prabal Gurung, Peter Som, Alexander Wang, Derek Lam and Narciso Rodriguez, whose red and black dress captured the spotlight when Obama wore it the night her husband was first elected president.
"It's not so much that she influences certain items of clothing — maybe her preference for cardigans has been influential — but it's more that she is someone who dresses confidently and looks good without being seen as trivial," Clark said. "Often, associations with fashion, particularly for women, have a trivializing effect. She has cared for her appearance without being seen as a coathanger, which is lovely."
Obama wore a gray Browne dress with a black lace overlay to one of the presidential debates last fall, and she honored him last summer at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards.
Browne also has designed the Black Fleece men's and women's collection for Brooks Brothers in addition to his signature line.
The first lady, who was sporting freshly cropped bangs and eyelash extensions, plans to give the Inauguration Day ensemble to the National Archives, the White House aide said.
Tribune Newspapers' Katherine Skiba contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times