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.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas