Hit & Run: First lady of fashion

Thursday 12 February 2009 01:00

Michelle Obama has divided fashion pundits with her bold choices and individual sense of style, but here's the definitive proof that she's sartorially savvy: she's landed a much-coveted spot on the cover of the world's most influential fashion magazine. The Annie Leibovitz portrait, taken for the March issue of American Vogue , was leaked earlier this week on The Washington Post's fashion blog ahead of its official debut today. "Change was the clarion call of Barack Obama's election campaign," writes Anna Wintour in her editor's letter, "though I don't think any of us at Vogue initially realised that would include the difference that was going to be made by First Lady Michelle Obama's wardrobe."

So how did she handle her first big fashion moment? Hit & Run's cover-by-numbers guide has the lowdown.

1. The event. Michelle is only the second First Lady to have graced the cover of the hallowed glossy (circulation 1.2 million). Lou Hoover, wife of Herbert, appeared inside the magazine in 1929. But there has been only one other White House cover star – Hillary Clinton, who posed back in December 1998, after the Lewinsky affair. In that portrait, Clinton was straight-backed and regal in red and black. By comparison, this shot shows Michelle as much more vanilla and here-to-help. She's doing it, one imagines, to support husband and to wave the flag for American fashion – not a means of clearing up all the President's mess.

2. The dress. Unlike many of the magazine's cover stars, Michelle hasn't been "transformed" with an haute couture makeover but is dressed in a style that's clearly her own – and she's again plumped for the Taiwan-born designer Jason Wu, who created the white gown she wore to the inaugural balls. An elegant shift dress, high-necked but with cap sleeves to stop her looking too formal or buttoned-up, it's a style that she favoured throughout the campaign. Tailored to give a silhouette that's curvy but not provocative, this shade of pink chimes well with this season's bright, jewel colours while remaining feminine and fun. Above all, it isn't frivolous: this pinky hue is not of the "hot" or "baby" variety.

3. The arms. The Obamas are quietly proud of their physiques. "I think it's safe to say Michelle's first among First Ladies in the toned arm department," comments Belinda Luscombe, Time magazine's editor-at-large. Obama's attractively defined but not over-pumped triceps and biceps are a focal point, showing her to be strong and capable rather than a gym slave. Madonna, take note.

4. The photo. Michelle doesn't seem to have been the victim of heavy-handed digital tinkering. Her pose suggests she's settling down to hear about our latest boyfriend dilemmas. Hers isn't the posture of a steely matriarch, but that of a confident and welcoming consort.

5. The jewellery. Classic drop earrings and an elegant engagement ring are minimal but meaningful. "It's in keeping with the whole 'We're just like you' message," says Luscombe.

6. The supporting cast. Michelle is in good company in this unusuallyheavyweight issue; Mme Carla Bruni-Sarkozy could easily carry a cover herself, and Melinda Gates and Queen Rania of Jordan have suitable gravitas.

7. The location. Not the White House, but the Hay-Adams hotel in Washington. The cosy but slightly incongruous table lamp and the pretty-pretty flower arrangement next to it are approachable, feminine and just a little bland. "This cover is a win-win for everyone," says Luscombe. "It suggests that Michelle is a woman of accomplishment and power, but without slipping into any kind of more-macho-than-the-guys trap. Michelle seems to negotiate that post-feminist world really astutely."

Harriet walker

Take that nasty cold one nostril at a time

Like all specialists, otolaryngologists like to use their expertise to puncture our assumptions. They are ear, nose and throat doctors, and now one of them, Dr Anil Lalwani of New York University Langone Medical Center, has declared that blowing your nose is the last thing you should do to clear stuffiness. Research shows that it causes a build-up of pressure, reversing the natural flow of mucus into the sinuses and thence to the throat. His solution? Blow (gently) one nostril at a time. Ahhh...

Jeremy Laurance

Think big (if you're going to the cinema)

Man on Wire, the documentary that picked up a Bafta for "Outstanding British Film" last Sunday, is to be re-released in selected UK cinemas next weekend. The story of young French daredevil Philippe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, it is a study in vertigo.

As such, its distributors, Icon, are encouraging viewers to "maximise the uplift by watching on the tallest screen you can find." Technically, there's no such thing as the "tallest" screen, but there's no denying your enjoyment would be enhanced by seeing the movie in a super-sized cinema.

Britain's biggest is the Waterloo Imax, which offers a 20 by 26-metre experience. The tallest cinema in the UK – and indeed, in Europe – is Glasgow's UGC Cinema, built in 2001, with an impressive 13 storeys to its name. The view from the top floor could, with a bit of imagination, give you a taste of Petit's task.

The 18 cinemas inside, however, have mere common or garden-sized screens. Odeon tells us that the largest of their seven screens showing Man on Wire in the UK is in Worcester. Why not take a trip? There's a lovely cathedral, too.

Tim Walker

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