G-20 fashion smackdown: Obama vs. Brown vs. Bruni-Sarkozy

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First Lady Michelle Obama took off for the G-20 Summit in London today wearing an ivory tulle tweed coat with black grosgrain piping made especially for her by young New York designer Thakoon Panichgul. It’s her first trip to Europe as first lady, and fashion enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting the chic smackdown between Obama and her European counterparts.

Obama has already met Sarah Brown, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s wife, who brought first daughters Sasha and Malia a TopShop care package when she visited Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Brown scores points for extending a stylish olive branch. (TopShop opens its first U.S. store in New York City on Thursday.) But she doesn’t offer much competition in the wardrobe department.


Despite being a cheerleader for London Fashion Week, Brown hasn’t tapped into the British scene’s extraordinary rising talents such as Richard Nicoll, Erdem Moralioglu and Giles Deacon for her own wardrobe. It’s a shame, too, because London designers are in desperate need of exposure from someone other than Kate Moss. And though they may have a reputation for being edgy, they could surely be tamed for a chance to dress the British first lady. You only have to look to British designer John Galliano to know that.

At Christian Dior for 12 years now, Galliano has gone from rockabilly transvestite and geisha girl looks to sober luncheon suits after embracing French first lady and former model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy as his muse over the last few seasons. And no doubt, when Bruni-Sarkozy meets Obama over the weekend, she will look impeccable, a tribute to her nation’s haute couture heritage. But will she look interesting?

Even with the French first lady’s model pedigree and good looks, we’re still betting on Obama to steal the spousal wardrobe stage. Not one to wear watered-down versions of European fashions, a la Jacqueline Kennedy, Obama is likely to continue to take risks, choosing pieces from a roster of multi-cultural, up-and-coming American designers such as Panichgul, the Taiwan-born Jason Wu and the Cuban-born Isabel Toledo. By doing so, she’ll help put those new American names on the world fashion map, and no doubt give us all something to talk about in the process.

-- Booth Moore


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Photo: President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama take off for the G-20 Summit in London. Credit: AP / Ron Edmonds