Over the past few years, Michelle Obama has generated about $2.7 billion for the fashion industry, just by getting dressed. One appearance in a $34 H&M dress, which she wore this month on the Today Show, can make a stock skyrocket, turn an unknown talent into a star, and send millions of shoppers to the mall, even in a sluggish economy. It’s the Mrs. O effect, but it’s not all the work of one woman. By the time her husband hit the campaign trail, ‘Mobama’ was already assembling her star team of fashion and beauty experts. But these are not your average red carpet stylists. All have roots in Chicago, and all work together to facilitate the first lady’s unique brand of elegant do-it-yourself looks. “She’s the most casual first lady we’ve ever had,” says Kate Betts, author of Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style. “That hasn’t changed since she’s been in the White House. She’s still wearing high-low fashion, floral dresses, and belts like she did on the campaign trial.” But after two years on the job, her influence on the fashion industry has solidified and so has her dream team.
Style guru: Ikram Goldman
She’s never officially spoken to press about her role in selecting designer looks for Mrs. O, but by the time our 44th president took office, Goldman’s influence was undisputed. Obama first met Goldman at her Chicago boutique, Ikram, long before her husband hit the campaign trail. With a reputation for ordering a unique selection of newer, avant-garde or under-represented designer looks for her boutique, Obama saw a kindred spirit. “Ikram set the stage for what the first lady wanted to have as her image in the White House,” says Betts. “Michelle was going to reflect her husband’s motto of change, of new faces, and of all of a younger generation, through her clothing. Ikram facilitated that because she supported those smaller designers in her own boutique.”
While Nancy Reagan famously had her own stylist, and Laura Bush considered Oscar de la Renta her go-to couturier, Michelle Obama was the first to take her inspiration from a shopkeeper. All of the inaugural looks, including the career-making Jason Wu gown, went through Goldman. For the first day in office, she had several designers, both famed and little-known, provide sketches of their looks. After she made her selections, she had them custom-designed to the first lady’s measurements, adding personalized flourishes befitting Michelle. From there, the decision were whittled down. “Michelle is someone who knows what she wants, so I’m sure she’s involved in making the final choices,” adds Betts. But Goldman’s job was to narrow down the choices, offer a wide range of selections and handle all the details.
Now 43, the mom of twin toddlers is focusing on her boutique, which is currently undergoing an expansion. Despite media speculation of a rift, Michelle still claims to defer to Goldman on all major style issues, though her day-to-day wardrobe-wrangling duties have fallen to former Goldman protege, Meredith Koop. “I’ve always bought clothes from Ikram,” she told press recently, according to the Washington Post. “Nothing has kind of changed. It’s kind of interesting where these stories come from, that sort of thing. I didn’t do anything different.”
Personal Shopper: Meredith Koop
At 29, Koop has one of the most powerful jobs in fashion. Formerly Michelle’s assistant, the White House recently, confirmed her role includes “advising the first lady on her wardrobe and acting on her behalf in arranging for purchases, including considering the best offered price and buying on discount if discounts are available”. This came after months of speculation about her role as ‘first’ stylist. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Koop cut her teeth working at Ikram, Goldman’s Chicago boutique. After the election, she was dispatched by her boss to Washington to cater exclusively to the first lady’s needs. But only recently was it made official, after Koop’s D.C. hairstylist gossiped to press about her client’s high-pressure duties.
Those duties, according to the Washinton Post, involve “aggressively court[ing] emerging designers and set[tting] up a system in which they send clothes on spec directly to the White House, a departure from the previous arrangement under Goldman, who handled sales through her store.” Journalist Robin Givhan describes Koop’s job as “relentless”, considering the non-stop wardrobe changes expected of a first lady in the style spotlight. That means negotiating with designers for looks, fittings and custom alternations, all with an eye for politics. Depending on who she’s visiting, Mrs. O must consider the statement she’s sending. Last month, at the State Dinner for the President of China, Obama sent a message of diplomacy by wearing red, a color that symbolizes luck in Chinese culture. But she also created an uproar stateside, because her Alexander McQueen gown wasn’t designed by an American. “Wear what you love,” Mrs. O said in response. And what she wants, Koop gets.
Hair stylist: Johnny Wright
Wright met Obama when he was hired for a photo shoot she was doing with Essence Magazine in 2007. They had an instant rapport, and soon he was styling her hair for her big speech at the Democratic National Convention. When it was time to head to the White House, Wright was asked to join the first family in D.C. Since then he’s been credited with fixing her hair for the first lady’s official portrait, and introducing the world to the tuck-up. (“A tuck-up is when I take the hair and gather it all in the back and I twist it and I pull up and tuck,” he told urbanbeautycollective.com) He created a mediated frenzy last year when she showed off a temporary look that suggested she’d chopped her locks off. She didn’t.
“She’s a great lady and I feel privileged to do her hair,” Wright told the Washington Post. His fierce loyalty and tight-lipped nature are part of what makes him invaluable to Obama. He’s also a natural: before he was styling celebrity clients like Michelle, Selita Ebanks or Candace Bushnell, he was doing his grandma’s hair at age three. By his teenage years, his parents built a salon in the basement of their Chicago home so he could take clients. His first client was the most popular girl in school, according to the Post. After her, the popular girls kept calling.
Make-up artist: Ingrid Grimes-Myles
For the first lady, a full-time mom, who travels the world at a moment’s notice, juggles various health-related campaigns, and makes some very public appearances very early in the morning, looking fresh-faced takes finesse. That’s where Grimes-Myles comes in. Another veteran of Obama’s team from before the White House days, she commutes between her hometown of Chicago and D.C. to make Mrs. O glow. “Mrs. Obama’s media appearances have increased exponentially over the years–she’s now expected to be pulled together all of the time–so I taught her a system I’ve developed called ‘Ms. Ingrid’s Fabulous 10 Minute Face,'” Grimes-Miles told Elle.com. It’s a mixture of a contouring face powder, shaped eye brows and two tones of lip-color. The 51-year-old make-up veteran, is also known for softening Michelle’s brows and teaching the first lady how to apply her own fake eye-lashes when she’s not around. But she’s not opposed to joining on official trips, like the first lady’s inaugural trip to Europe.
Trainer: Cornell McClellan
Perhaps the most important accessory Michelle Obama flaunts is her toned arms. Fitness trainer McLellan can take some credit for that. He’s also tasked with keeping the president in shape. Like the rest of her team, the 54-year-old’s roots are in Chicago where he owns a wellness center called Naturally Fit. Now he spends two to four mornings in the White House gym each week, working out with the first couple. “I believe in working people as hard as possible, but as polite as possible,” the father of six told the New York Times last week. His manner was a hit with Mrs. O, who first started training at his gym in 1997. Her routine these days involves intense cardio, compound movements like lunges and bench presses, and the occasional kickboxing routine, he told Women’s Health last year. But the clincher is what McClellan calls an “arm-shaping superset” of tricep pushdowns and hammer curls, designed to shape Mrs. O’s arms for every dress and every occasion.