- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

As retailers roll out spring catalogs and department stores unveil seasonal merchandise, the trends look oddly familiar, with a distinctive first-lady twist. Floral prints, belted cardigans and one-shoulder chiffon evening gowns. It’s Michelle Obama deja vu.

“Mrs. Obama is slowly introducing more recent and modern trends,” says local fashion designer Ebong Eka. “During the president’s speech [addressing Congress on Feb. 24], Michelle wore a great lavender skirt and lavender satin blouse. Lavender, purple and its many hues are the colors for spring. Michelle Obama is also introducing the importance of versatility of garments. A-line dresses with complimentary jackets and accessories show the new trend.”

“This spring, it’s all about icons of American beauty,” says Jenna Lyons, creative director for J. Crew, a favorite of the presidential family. “We decided to do all of our shoots here at home rather than in some exotic locations. Michelle Obama is definitely an inspiration.”

Ms. Lyons says many of the staples in the J. Crew spring and summer collection were inspired by outfits donned by Mrs. Obama.

“Longer, leaner pencil skirts, lower-heel pumps, shift dresses in bright colors. These have always been part of our vernacular, but we expect sales to spike this year because Michelle has been wearing so many of these things,” she says.

Dresses, always in high demand for spring weddings and garden parties, will be boldly reminiscent of the sheath dresses worn by Mrs. Obama on the campaign trail last year. One J. Crew dress in what Ms. Lyons describes as a “lemon citrus” color is an homage of sorts to the Isabel Toledo suit Mrs. Obama wore to her husband’s swearing-in ceremony.

As for Macy’s, its spring catalog boasts many Michellesque sleeveless dresses - if you dare to show your less-than-toned arms.

“Michelle Obama’s inauguration style is a clear representation of what Macy’s is focusing on for spring. She is on the pulse of fashion with her bold color choice, embellishment and cut,” says Macy’s fashion director Nicole Fischelis.

Ms. Fischelis cites an Ellen Tracy boat-neck sheath with beaded embellishment around the neckline.

Ms. Lyons also says J. Crew will do children’s clothing in “intense colors” similar to those worn by the Obama daughters at the inauguration and will accessorize with “belts and cardigans” a la Mrs. O.

“Michelle loves to layer with cardigans and accessories. The length of the boyfriend cardigan, a huge trend right now, paired with a larger belt accentuates her waist and is flattering to her figure. Instead of pairing the pencil skirt with a suit jacket, the cardigan plays down the look of the outfit, and the splash of orange underneath keeps it playful,” says Michele Rothstein, a spokeswoman for Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets.

Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction for Bloomingdale’s, says she also sees Mrs. Obama looming large in her spring merchandise, especially when it comes to footwear.

“I was in a meeting with some of our shoe buyers, and they were talking about pointy pumps with a kitten heel. I said, ‘Uh, duh, you mean the Michelle Obama shoes.’ ”

Ms. Solomon says the Bloomingdale’s window on 52nd Street in Manhattan recently was filled with mannequins sporting asymmetrical white “goddess gowns” like Mrs. Obama’s inaugural gown, famously designed by Jason Wu.

For one of her recent hostessing gigs, the first lady welcomed the nation’s governors to the White House in a daring, strapless body-hugging number by Peter Soronen and completed her look with a multistrand necklace by Tom Binns.

Local jeweler Allison Priebe Brooks, who designs for many Washington doyennes under her Queen Bee label, says the statement necklace - especially in crystal and metallic hues - is the must-have item for spring.

If Bloomingdale’s and baubles are out of your price range, you can have a spring fling at recession-proof stores such as Target and still come out looking like a first lady.

Chanel-inspired quilted purses with chain straps and ballet flats like the ones worn by Mrs. Obama at the National Cathedral service she attended in January all retail for less than $20.

“Average people can easily visit Ann Taylor, the Limited and similar brand of stores for affordable looks. Accessories and shoes are great ways to accentuate and complete looks,” Mr. Eka says.

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