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Dress We Can!

If there’s a dress in the news, it’s a good bet that there’s an FIT connection. So it’s no surprise that the FIT stamp was all over the events surrounding the election and inauguration of President Barack Obama. The lemongrass colored outfit Michelle Obama wore on inauguration day was by Isabel Toledo, who attended the college and will be the subject of an exhibition opening at The Museum at FIT in June. The dress and coat were made of Swiss wool lace, backed with netting for warmth and lined in French silk. The look scored raves. New York Times fashion writer Cathy Horyn called it “a canny choice for a First Lady…. She stood out against the sea of blue and red on the Capitol steps, and she also seemed to emphasize her husband’s speech: ‘We’re going to do things differently now.’”

Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joseph Biden, also got nods for her inauguration-day fashion picks, two of which were by FIT alumnae. For the day, her gray houndstooth dress was from Milly, a company launched in 2000 by designer Michelle Smith, Fashion Design ’92. At the inaugural balls, Mrs. Biden appeared in a resplendent strapless red gown by Reem Acra, Fashion Design ’86.

Michelle Obama in Isabel Toledo

Jill Biden wears Reem Acra

Fashion writers have frequently praised Mrs. Obama, whose confident American style draws comparisons to Jackie Kennedy. Last November, the red and black Narciso Rodriguez dress she wore on election night received a fair amount of attention. As it turns out, Rodriguez’s atelier director is Brenda Mikel, Patternmaking Technology ’92.

Mikel knew this satin and chiffon sheath well; she did the draping. “We do almost everything in-house here,” she says of the firm near Irving Place in Manhattan. “I work very closely with Narciso, and he’s very hands-on. We met eight years ago, when we were both working at Calvin Klein.” The striking red mosaic pattern was created by sewing together individual chiffon squares, then embroidering them onto the chiffon ground using silk floss. Obama picked out the dress from Rodriguez’s fall ’08 collection and ordered a more modest version with a raised neckline and opaque skirt.

Critics noted that the cashmere shrug Obama wore over her shoulders affected the outfit’s proportions, but Mikel says the feedback she’s received has been positive and plentiful. Sarah Jessica Parker and Rachel Weisz have worn dresses she’s worked on, “but that was nothing like this. It was an overwhelming response—in a good way.”

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