Obama, by Versace: candidate inspires Donatella's new style

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The Independent US

The fashion world is falling head-over-heels for Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. Donatella Versace has called the Democratic candidate "the man of the moment", and dedicated her entire spring-summer 2009 menswear collection to him. The Italian designer said she was creating a style for "a relaxed man who doesn't need to flex muscles to show he has power".

She even had some fashion tips for Mr Obama, saying: "I would get rid of the tie and jazz up the shirt." Whether Mr Obama will be daring enough to take to the campaign trail attired in shiny suits with skinny lapels teamed with beige leather flip-flops remains to be seen. The collection he inspired was shown in Milan at the weekend and featured no ties, while conventional shirts were replaced with silk scoop-neck T-shirts.

Mr Obama has described his dress sense as "fairly standard" and said that he owned only five suits and four pairs of shoes. But designers are hoping the stylish couple win in November and that the rather middle-aged style of the Bush White House is consigned to history. Laura Bush likes the well-coiffed matronly look while her husband is happiest as an urban cowboy.

It is the poised and statuesque Michelle Obama who has really set the fashion world aflutter, however. Last week when she mentioned on the daytime TV show The View that she bought her striking summer dress at White House/ Black Market, her admirers were instantly on the phone looking for the $148 (£74) dress from the designer Donna Ricco whose clothes sell at Nordstroms, Macys, Lord & Taylor.

"Women literally were snatching it up," said Jessica Wells, spokeswoman for White House/ Black Market.

But for many of Chicago's most prominent women, including Oprah Winfrey, the clothes designer of choice is Maria Pinto, a 51-year-old Chicago native, whose streamlined designs for Mrs Obama have created a buzz on the campaign trail. A virtual unknown just 16 months ago her designs are now in great demand.

"Her clothes really capture the strength and grace of women," Mrs Obama says of Ms Pinto’s designs.

Just four years ago she was bankrupt, thanks to embezzlement by one of her staff and a fragile US economy. She relaunched her company in 2004.

Orders for her entire line are up more than 35 per cent this year and, if history is a judge, overnight international fame awaits, should Barack Obama become president. The designer Oleg Cassini shot to fame when his client Jacqueline Kennedy moved into the White House in 1961 and everyone wanted to look like her.

Pinto’s ready-to-wear collection is on sale in some of the top outlets including Takashimaya in New York, and Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue sell her silk wraps.

"My clients aren't into all the Gucci hoo-ha," she told The Wall Street Journal, explaining that her designs appeal to women who eschew the status of labels in favour of style and fit. Business is so hot that she and her staff of 18 are moving to a new 2,200-square-foot boutique complete with bamboo floors and marble-clad Italian columns, which opens in July.

Pinto is already dreaming up designs for next January's inaugural ball. But the role of White House couturier can be tricky. Oscar de la Renta discovered this in 2006 when Laura Bush showed up at one of the biggest social events of the year in one of his $8,500 red numbers. Unfortunately, three other women were wearing the same designer gowns.

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