'Mrs. O' author takes a hard-bound look at Michelle Obama's fashionableness

SUBJECT OF ADMIRATION: An "absolutely captivated" fan's blog led to the new book "Mrs. O." (Joyce N. Boghosian/white House Via Associated Press)
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By Garance Franke-Ruta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2009

America still has a crush on Obama -- Michelle Obama, that is.

While other prominent women in politics slug it out in the public sphere and are rewarded with the negative approval ratings that follow like battle scars -- 50 percent for Sarah Palin, according to recent Gallup polling, and the same for Nancy Pelosi -- the well-coifed and well-dressed first lady has become even more popular than her husband since the election.

Tough foreign policy decisions and the contentious health-care debate may have wiped the bloom off the presidential rose, but the first lady remains newsstand gold. Her marriage is dissected in Sunday's New York Times magazine cover story. She graces the cover of the December Glamour, resplendent in red, the first time in the magazine's 70-year history that a first lady has done so. And now a glossy 236-page book about her style is giving her the full icon treatment.

Out in bookstores Wednesday, "Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy" is the carefully curated offspring of the Mrs-O.org blog maintained by Mary Tomer since shortly after the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Tomer, who works for advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York, says she was "absolutely captivated" by the way Obama combined "strength and femininity" at the convention. The blog was midwifed by Tomer's agency: An in-house "creative technologist" provided Web design and hosting services, as part of an effort to develop employees' ideas.

After the election, Tomer was quickly approached by two publishers and wound up with an agent who helped her broker a deal in the "very low" six figures with a third publisher, the Center Street imprint of the Hachette Book Group, in December.

Tomer spoke with more than 40 designers for the book, which includes interviews with such Obama favorites as Jason Wu, Loree Rodkin, Isabel Toledo and Peter Soronen. It's also filled with fabric swatch close-ups and dress shots (famous and less well-known), and it displays the thoroughness of a librarian in cataloguing the origins of Obama's many brooches, pins and patent-leather heels.

As for that "Mrs. O" title: "My mother had passed on this fascination with Jackie Kennedy's style. . . . The parallels have been made too literal, but the fascination around both women is where it's really valid," said Tomer, 28, adding that in Obama, "my generation had found its Jackie O."

Influenced in design and spirit by the 2001 volume "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years," the new book's Kennedy worship comes through as well in a selection of images that focus on Obama's dresses and "Mad Men"-reminiscent outfits.

Though Tomer has caught some flak for not being a completely independent blogger -- she developed and wrote the book on the company dime -- she rejects the idea that the blog and book are anything other than a product of her own "passion" and admiration for Michelle Obama. "The book advance was invested back into the production of the book and more," she says -- mainly for photo rights and design work. There was no outside client involved -- part of a new advertising company trend in which products are launched by the firms themselves.

Tomer has never met her fashion hero, contenting herself with admiring from afar. "I did pen her a letter earlier this year and told her all about the blog and book project and asked for an interview," she said of her one exception.

She received a letter back from Tyler Lechtenberg, the associate director of correspondence for the first lady, "thanking me for the letter and declining the request."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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