Three fashion icons and their special relationships

Michelle Obama's style choices can make or break a label. But she's not the only one. Harriet Walker on a visit that's frocking the world

Not content with knowing the skeletons lurking in our politicians' closets, we're increasingly desperate to find out what's hanging in the armoires of their other halves too. President Obama's state visit to Britain has kicked off a veritable salon show of wives' wardrobes, with the American First Lady, her counterpart Samantha Cameron and the newly wed Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton all stepping out yesterday in their most fashionable finery.

None of these women are strangers to the scrutiny that comes with their jobs, of course: Michelle Obama is credited with the stratospheric rise in sales at US high street chain J. Crew after appearing in their clothes on television; Samantha Cameron meanwhile caused stampedes at Marks & Spencer two years ago when she wore a £65 polka dot dress to the Tory party conference."The likes of Sam Cam and Michelle Obama have modernised the idea of being a politician's wife," says Jo Hooper, womenswear buyer at John Lewis. "Where once it was all reserved two piece suits, the trend now is for down-to-earth and accessible – a microcosm of their husband's political attitudes." And Kate Middleton has captured the imagination of younger shoppers too. The white silk Whistles blouse (£125) that she wore in her official engagement portrait was re-issued and sold out in stores across the country. A pair of LK Bennett wedges (£165) that she wore the days before and after her nuptials will be made available to the public again, despite being technically obsolete as part of last year's summer collection.

The pin-tucked nude Reiss dress she wore to meet President Obama and his wife, Michelle, yesterday went the same way, selling out within an hour and crashing the store's website as hundreds of shoppers raced to part with £175.

"It's only right that Kate takes an interest in British brands," says blogger Sasha Wilkins, the founder of which publicised Kate's clothing choice yesterday within an hour of its appearing on TV. "This publicity is good for British fashion, which is one of our biggest industries – it's her duty to help out GB Ltd. overseas."

"First ladies can become one of the most well-known, influential and sometimes powerful women in their respective countries," says Robb Young, author of Power Dressing: First Ladies, Woman Politicians and Fashion. "And when a first lady has the charisma and stardust to add to that status, it means that her wardrobe has the potential to be doubly influential and meaningful to people, not only to those who are interested in fashion but sometimes even to those who couldn't care less about it."

Last year an analyst at the Stern School of Business in New York calculated "the Obama effect" as bringing in £1.7bn to brands worn by the First Lady. Her sartorial choices have caused admiration and outrage alike: pieces by J. Crew are immediately flagged on the brand's website, so that customers can buy them immediately. However, when she wore an Alexander McQueen gown for a State Banquet last year, designer Oscar de la Renta and the Council of Fashion Designers of America issued statements to say they were "disappointed" in a choice that they saw as un-patriotic.

"It's such an American phenomenon," adds Sasha Wilkins. "They're so much more engaged with these figures. It makes a commercial point – Americans will go straight out and buy these clothes."

Samantha Cameron proves the rule this side of the Atlantic: the very British Burberry Prorsum dress that she wore to the Royal Wedding last month sold out on Net-a-Porter within the hour. Cameron has made a point of wearing clothes by designers based in Britain, appearing in Emilia Wickstead shortly after her husband took power and in industry insiders' favourite Christopher Kane for a drinks reception at Downing Street during Fashion Week last February. Yesterday she wore a grey leopard print dress by young British label Peter Pilotto, befitting her role as an adviser on emerging talent to the British Fashion Council.

"It all comes down to celebrity," says Wilkins. "People take their style advice from celebrities these days, so endorsement from them really works. However, there is a theory that, the more often you see a celebrity in a certain label, the less interested you are. So if Kate Middleton continues to wear Reiss, there's a chance that the novelty will wear off."

This is one of the reasons that Michelle Obama has been so successful a brand ambassador for the labels she chooses to favour. Rather than returning to one specific shop, she mixes pieces in a way that the public finds endearing and the press goes crazy for. She captured the usually icy hearts of the fashion crowd when she wore an Azzedine Alaia belt during the campaign trail in 2008; she wowed them again by teaming a J. Crew skirt with a cardigan by niche Japanese designer Junya Watanabe in 2009.

To arrive in the country, Obama married politics with fashion by wearing a cobalt blue suit by Preen, a London-based design duo who show their biannual collections in New York. A perfect example of "the Obama effect" in action.

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Life and Style

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
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

    Senior Pensions Administrator

    £23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: I am currently recruiting level 3 n...

    Are you a Teacher interested in Special Needs?

    £110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified Teacher w...


    £60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job:* The Tutor will prepar...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album