Do Designers Support Obama In Hopes That the First Lady Will Wear Their Clothes?

Photo: Getty

President Obama is the first presidential candidate that the fashion industry, as a whole, has publicly rallied behind, generating support and money. He’s also husband to arguably the most fashion-conscious First Lady in history, who has been known to generate buckets of money for any brand she wears. Could the two be related?

According to Washington Post, maybe. “Excluding jewelry designers and mass-market retailers, nearly 50 percent of American designers worn by Michelle Obama donated to her husband’s 2008 or 2012 campaigns, according to Federal Election Commission filings,” the paper’s Katherine Boyle writes. Boyle notes that in 2008, when Michelle’s fashion influence was not fully known, only a handful of designers had donated to the campaign. In 2012, that number has tripled.

Brands aren’t just honored when Mrs. O wears their clothes–they’re making serious bank. According to an analysis done by David Yermack, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, a single public appearance by the First Lady can generate up to $14 million in value for the company that she’s wearing. It makes sense, then, that some brands and designers would be willing to do a little PR for Obama’s campaign if it meant that the likelihood of Michelle wearing their clothes increased.

However, the First Lady’s spokeswoman insists that a designer’s support for her husband’s campaign has nothing to do with her wardrobe choices. “The first lady thinks that women should wear whatever makes them feel good and be comfortable,” she told the Washington Post. “That’s how the first lady chooses her own clothes and based on no other considerations.”

And many designers and fashion industry insiders agree that the First Lady’s patronage has got nothing to do with their support of her husband’s campaign. “When people are looking at who he is and lining up to support him or not, it has to do with their own personal beliefs,” CFDA president Steven Kolb said. “Social issues they think are important, such as same-sex marriage, his policies and positions on Afghanistan or what he’s done in terms of economic recovery.”

Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons the New School for Design, said the industry’s support has more to do with the Obama administration’s willingness to embrace fashion, in general, rather than her ability to generate sales for specific designers.

Michelle Obama in Jason Wu

“Clearly, both the administration, and by extension the First Lady, made a decision that they would be public in their support for fashion — so, we’re in. We want to support them,” he told the Washington Post. “For those who say it’s just Michelle, frankly, it trivializes the attention the administration is paying to our industry.”

Indeed, a closer look at the designers she’s worn does not always show a direct correlation between those who have donated. Jason Wu, for instance, has not donated to the Obama campaign (though he is participating in Runway to Win). On the other hand, Reed Krakoff has donated to the campaign, although Obama competitor Ann Romney famously wore his designs. It’s also worth noting that the fashion industry, as a whole, has always skewed in the liberal and democratic direction.

Clearly, Michelle Obama’s wardrobe alone does not create political allies–but perhaps it does sweeten the deal just a little.


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