By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 3:46 PM
First Lady Michelle Obama appears on the March cover of Vogue, becoming one of two first ladies to be pictured on the famed cover, along with Hillary Clinton.
In the cover photo, taken by Annie Leibovitz, Obama is leaning on a soft beige sofa at the Hay-Adams Hotel, where the first family stayed days before the historic inauguration. Obama is wearing a magenta dress by Jason Wu, who designed her inaugural ball gown. Her right hand rests under her chin. Her left hand folded beneath her. She is wearing a diamond that you do not often see her wearing in recent appearances. Behind her, light streams in between curtains.
Inside, a photograph shows her in a black dress by designer Narciso Rodriguez. She is standing in front of open French doors. Outside is Lafayette Park and in the distance you can barely see the White House, the seat of power. Behind her are the props of her profession: a laptop, a cup of coffee or more likely tea. A notepad, a pen. A folded newspaper. She is tethered to work by an old-fashioned telephone, the spiral cord stretched, the receiver at her right ear. She is not talking. She is either listening or on hold.
Starting with Lou Hoover, Herbert Hoover's wife, first ladies have been photographed for Vogue, but those photos have often appeared inside where they are well placed, not quite hidden, but not quite having the oomph of being featured out front.
"It's the second time a first lady has appeared on cover of Vogue," says Vogue spokesman Patrick O'Connell. The two Obama "portraits were commissioned. They were taken by Annie Leibovitz at the Hay-Adams in January." The cover story is written by Vogue editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley.
In the article, Obama tells Talley that she is settling in, trying to find a church to join and help her daughters get adjusted. "I'm going to try to take them to school every morning -- as much as I can," she tells Talley. "But there's also a measure of independence. And obviously there will be times I won't be able to drop them off at all. I like to be a presence in my kids' school. I want to know the teacher; I want to know the other parents."
Vogue is the country's premier mainstream fashion magazine. And when it puts a woman of color on the cover, it says something about how its editors view this administration, fashion industry experts say. Even if you take race off the table, there is an awe over how this new administration can bring energy to the conversation around how beauty can intersect with power. And how power can be beauty. And how a black woman from the South Side of Chicago and with curves can become a symbol of beauty.
"Change was the clarion call of Barack Obama's election campaign," writes Vogue's editor, Anna Wintour, "though I don't think any of us at Vogue initially realized that would include the difference that was going to be made by First Lady Michelle Obama's wardrobe."
Wintour wrote that she was impressed by Michelle Obama's inauguration dress designed by Isabel Toledo and her ball gown designed by Jason Wu. She liked the Narciso Rodriguez camel coat she wore to the opening ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial.
"It wasn't just that her choices projected a simpler, streamlined, more modern attitude, rejecting the ridiculous idea that the only way for a First Lady to dress is in the dreaded White House standard-issue uniform -- the boxy, anonymous suit that always managed to look as appealing, and as comfortable, as armor. Instead, we have a woman who is happy in newer, less obvious designer choices like Wu and Toledo. . . . It's inspiring to see our First Lady so serene and secure in her personal style."