The art of power dressing with Michelle Obama’s stylist Meredith Koop



Michelle ObamaParas Griffin / Contributor . Getty
Images

Summary List Placement

Daniella Carter said if she’s learned one thing from Michelle
Obama’s style, it’s what an unapologetic Black successful woman
looks like “even when there are people in the world spewing
hate.” 

Carter is a Black trans activist and founder of the
eponymous “Guest Book
which highlights creators of color. 

She grew up in foster care but said seeing Obama
“suited-and-booted” made her always remember that though she may
not have had a mother who looked like her, she would learn to
carry herself so that she and her future daughter could both grow
up to be unapologetic Black, successful women. 

She’s not the only one who feels this way. 


Meredith Koop
Meredith
Koop

Meredith
Koop


After Obama’s 2021 inauguration look that left the internet in a
daze, Insider reached out to her stylist, Meredith Koop, as
well as ten Black professionals to talk about how Obama’s style
has influenced them.  Koop helped craft the image of how a
Black woman looks
co-hosting a state dinner
,
visiting the Queen of England
, going on a book tour, and,
most recently, at President Biden’s inauguration.

 “She’s incredible at what she says, what she does, how much
she cares. We all know this, and most of us agree,” Koop told
Insider about Obama. “The legacy is her. The clothing is that
extra element that is transcendent in nonverbal
communication.” 

What a powerful Black woman looks like

“When I saw Mrs. Obama show up to the inauguration for President
Biden, I was in awe — her hair was laid and her dress slayed —
even in a mask,”
DeShuna Spencer,
founder and CEO of the Black media streaming service KweliTV, told
Insider. 

Spencer said Obama has come to exemplify what a “powerful Black
woman looks like.”

Sandrine
Charles
, a consultant, and cofounder of the Black in Fashion
Council,
told Insider the inauguration look was also one of
her all-time favorites. “She always has had a presence of
royalty,” Charles said of Mrs. Obama. 

Eric Darnell
Pritchard
,
fashion historian
and Brown Chair in English literacy at the
University of Arkansas, told Insider that Obama’s style is
inextricably linked with her accomplishments, and “many Black
people appreciate that self-authorship.”

“The ‘Forever
First Lady
‘ designation people bestow upon her is more than a
term of endearment,” Pritchard continued. “It is a testament to
how valuable her representation has been to the Black
community.” 


Michelle Obama
Pritchard said
authenticity is probably for which Mrs. Obama will be
remembered.

YURI GRIPAS/AFP via Getty
Images


Koop styled Obama with tactical precision 

There was no blueprint for how a Black First Lady should look.
There had never been one before. 

Styling the former First Lady was — and still is — a tightrope
walk across the Grand Canyon. A delicate balance between looking
good, but not too good. Obama’s outfit can never overpower her
voice, Koop said. 

Even with Obama long out of the White House, Koop still
anticipates what people will say — how a dress was too
loose-fitting, or how a color scheme didn’t match. Koop figures
she probably wouldn’t have to incorporate such styling precision
if Obama was white. 

“It’s just obvious,” Koop said. “The way that the press in
particular, and the media and different individuals construed her
appearance into something negative — that was happening right
from the beginning.” 


Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama wearing a
Tracy Reese dress

Rick Rowell /
Contributor


Fashion designer Tracy Reese,
who has worked with Koop and
dressed Obama on numerous occasions
, told Insider she noticed
there was always a very clear vision for how Obama would look.

“In the public consciousness the First Lady is always either in a
suit or something very conservative,” Reese said. “Mrs. Obama
really broke the mold in terms of how she chose to dress.” 

She wasn’t afraid to show her feminine side and wear beautiful
dresses, Reese continued. There was softness, optimism, and
color. “We hadn’t seen that in the White House, probably ever,”
she said.  

Koop’s precise execution of Obama’s style paid off. The model
Shavone Charles, known as SHAVONE. and also
director of communications and creative partnerships at
image-sharing app VSCO, called
Koop and Obama the last decade’s “most dynamic duo.” 

“For me and many other Black women, we look at Mrs. Obama and we
see ourselves,” she said and pointed to the white Tom Ford gown
Mrs. Obama wore to the state banquet at Buckingham palace in 2011
as one of her favorites.


Michelle Obama
L-R)
Queen Elizabeth II, US President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive for a state banquet at
Buckingham Palace on May 24, 2011 in London, England.
(

Anwar Hussein / Contributor / Getty
Images


That inauguration look exuded power 

Nearly everyone Insider spoke with had a favorite outfit. Koop
loves the rose-colored Atelier Versace gown Obama wore to her
last state dinner as First Lady in 2016, while Pritchard is a fan
of the
black Vera Wang mermaid gown she wore
to the 2015 China state
dinner. 

Then, of course, there’s that inauguration look,
designed by
Sergio Hudson
, a Black designer from New York. Haitian
American photographer
Geraldine Jeannot
called the look a moment of style and
grace. 

Black people are always “placed in a box” and judged heavily on
their appearances, Jeannot said. “That day, Mrs. Obama was power
walking into the room.” 


michelle obama inauguration
Former
US President Barack Obama and Former US First Lady Michelle Obama
arrive for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President
on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington,
DC.


JONATHAN
ERNST/POOL/AFP via Getty Images



Koop broke down for Insider the wineberry plum
outfit
, which came from one of Hudson’s latest runway
collections. Hudson did not respond to Insider’s request for
comment.  

Koop wanted dark colors, jewel tones. A monochrome look. 
She requested some changes to the original ensemble: pants
instead of a skirt and a less-shiny coat lining. A matte lining
deflected camera flashes and made the belt stand out. The sweater
turned into a bodysuit with a zipper in the back, so Obama didn’t
have to pull it over her head, the boots were Stuart Weitzman,
the matching gloves and mask were by tailor Christy Rilling

Producer and former stock trader Lauren
Simmons
 knows what it’s like to occupy historically
white spaces. 

She was the second African American woman to become a full-time
trader at the New York Stock Exchange and said the way Obama uses
style to exude power inspires her and is something she seeks to
emulate.

“There have been many women throughout history who have had
impeccable style,” she said. “But to see a Black woman do it
fearlessly, and graciously is power in itself.” 

High-profile women using clothing to start
conversations

Simmons and SHAVONE. said that Obama’s style helped usher in the
era of powerful women wearing clothes to be both seen
and heard. Simmons agreed with this sentiment and
pointed to Meghan Markle as an example of
a high-profile woman using clothing to start
conversations

Pritchard added that the latest generation of politicians has
also adopted this. Women, now more than ever, are bracing
authenticity. 

Even during the White House years, Koop would work closely with
designers to craft what a modern First Lady looks like. Some
would already come with ideas in mind, but many of those ideas
had to do with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

“She was a white woman from a certain background, and Michelle is
a Black woman from a different background,” Koop said. “I felt
like the best thing would be to reflect the authenticity of
Michelle in her own right.” 


Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama wearing
head-to-toe Balenciaga.

Dia Dipasupil
/ Staff


That meant Jason Wu gowns,
lots of J. Crew
, and, after the White House, custom
Balenciaga glitter boots. In politics, there was a heavy
blueprint in how women, especially, were supposed to look. 

“Mrs. Obama certainly inspires how I dress,” Illinois
Congresswoman Lauren
Underwood
told Insider. At the age of 34, she is currently
the
youngest Black woman
serving in Congress. 

“Her influence is most pronounced as I prepare for the rare
formal events that I’ve attended as a member of Congress. It’s so
difficult to be modest and still stylish and Mrs. Obama always
nailed it.” 

Christopher Lacy, assistant professor of fashion management at
Parsons, said Koop styled Obama in a way that celebrated the
“female aesthetic” and felt she never sought to hide her height
or athleticism, and instead, selected clothes that accentuated
those attributes. 

“What Meredith and Michelle have done together is show the world
what millions of Black women and men have known for years,” Lacy
continued. “That the Black silhouette is not confined to the
borders of Eurocentric misconceptions”


Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama. Spencer, who has been wearing her hair
naturally for over a decade, said it makes her feel product when
Mrs. Obama wears her naturally curly hair in such public
spaces.

MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty
Images)


Carter and Pritchard expressed similar sentiments. Carter added
that before, the only Black bodies deemed to be powerful were
those of entertainers, and that “it felt revolutionary to see
someone not playing a character, sending a message to our
communities and culture that Black chic, sexy, smart, and
beautiful women are not just Hollywood roles.”

Underwood says Obama’s fashion legacy will manifest in a
generation of powerful women freely expressing themselves using
any colors, patterns, textures, designers, and hairstyles they
want.

“No matter whether the clothing came off the clearance rack or if
it’s a one-of-a-kind custom design,” she continued. “She shows us
how to bring our full selves to the world stage, one incredibly
accessible ensemble at a time.” 





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