Michelle Obama: The three billion dollar woman

A New York professor of finance has revealed Mrs Obama's staggering impact on the world of fashion

Forget advertising in glossy magazines, gushing celebrity endorsements or the creation of an exclusive, hush-hush cult of desirability. The latest and greatest marketing technique is simple, in theory: get Michelle Obama to wear your clothes.

It's easier said than done, of course – but if you can pull it off, the impact is extraordinary. And now the numerical evidence for something that every brand consultant has known in their bones is in. An analyst at the Stern School of Business in New York has assessed the effect the First Lady brings to the designer labels that she is seen in, and worked out that the total economic benefit that she has brought to her chosen brands is around $2.7 billion (£1.7 billion). Not since Imelda Marcos has a political wardrobe come under so much scrutiny.

The study, published in the Harvard Business Review this week, found that a company's stock experienced an enormous upward spike after Mrs Obama was seen wearing its clothes.

This comes as no surprise to a society of savvy shoppers bombarded with celebrity "get the look" features in every magazine, but the findings speak for themselves. Brands worn by Mrs Obama rose by 2.3 per cent, while those not hanging in her closet were down 0.4 per cent; this is much more significant an effect than any old starlet in a pair of fancy jeans.

Professor of Finance David Yermack cites 189 public appearances between November 2008 and December 2009 in which Mrs Obama wore pieces by 29 listed companies, including Calvin Klein, Nina Ricci, Gap and J.Crew. He estimates that a single appearance by the First Lady can generate up to $14 million alone, either for the label itself or for the chain of shops which stocks it.

One of the biggest success stories is the American retailer J.Crew. In January 2009, the Obamas' two daughters wore coats from the shop to watch their father being sworn in, while their mother clutched his copy of the Lincoln bible, upon which he swore the presidential oaths, in green leather gloved hands, also from the store. The next morning, the gloves section of the J.Crew website had crashed; the entire womenswear site later ceased to function.

Mrs Obama had also worn a head-to-toe J.Crew look for her appearance on The Tonight Show in October 2008 – while steadfastly refusing to comment on Sarah Palin's reported $150,000 spree at designer store Nieman Marcus – and her ensemble was advertised in stores with the slogan "This gets our vote". After a tour of Europe which saw the First Lady in a J.Crew skirt, the die was cast. Within six months, Brits too could buy the label online, from the luxury e-boutique Net A Porter.

Her secret lies in her authenticity – as a figure on the political periphery, she is imbued with an almost moral standing that other figures in the fashion arena are not. Consumers realise that wearing these pieces is not her job, as it is for the models or personalities in the adverts, for example; and that she buys her clothes for the same reasons we do – because they are necessary, comfortable, practical and because she likes the way they look.

The First Lady is also known for her reliable fashion sense, having showcased a variety of pieces that suggest a certain amount of industry knowledge. Not so insider as to put people off, but frostings of designer accessories – a belt by Azzedine Alaia here, a Junya Watanabe cardigan there – all paired with high street items to create the ultimate wardrobe to which the woman in the street can easily aspire.

Professor Yermack's study also considers Mrs Obama's French counterpart, Carla Bruni, who is similarly held up as a style icon among politicians' wives. But Ms Bruni is usually seen in high-end designer labels (Christian Dior's creative director, John Galliano, personally selected her clothes for her recent trip to London), so does not have the same consumer appeal or economic impact at the American First Lady.

Mr Obama has often spoken about how much he relies on his wife; it seems the rest of his country does too, whether it's style advice they're looking for or a fiscal stimulus.

First Lady of fashion

J. Crew, October 2008

Amid criticisms of Sarah Palin's expensive wardrobe during the US presidential campaign, Mrs Obama played up the frugality of her own wear during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The host asked if she had spent "sixty grand" on a yellow ensemble. "Actually, this is a J. Crew ensemble," she said, adding that she liked internet shopping. "You get some good stuff online... When you don't have time, you've got to click."

Within four days of the show, the company's share price had increased by 25 per cent, according to David Yermack.

Naeem Khan, November 2009

Mrs Obama wore a gold strapless gown designed by Mr Khan at the first White House state dinner in honour of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Mr Khan said that the event had changed his business for the better. "It's the gift that doesn't stop giving. My stuff is flying out of stores," he told The Wall Street Journal. "I love it... Even in an economy like this, glamorous things like these are selling in the stores. And for that I say, 'Thank you Michelle Obama'."

Nina Ricci and Calvin Klein, December 2009

Unlike many first ladies who, such as Carla Sarkozy-Bruni, generally dress in one brand (Dior in her case) – Mrs Obama is known to mix and match. After she wore a mixture of Ricci and Klein to the Nobel award ceremony, in the two days afterwards the companies linked with the clothes saw a $772m aggregate gain, Mr Yermack said.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own