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At the White House, a new shopper in chief

Meredith Koop, a 29-year-old personal assistant to the first lady, received plenty of attention at Fashion Week for her role in crafting Michelle Obama's style.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 9:25 PM

On Tuesday night last week, Ikram Goldman, the celebrated stylist of Michelle Obama, took her front-row seat at the Lincoln Center runway show of one of the first lady's preferred designers, Narciso Rodriguez.

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Wearing black and a beaded headband, Goldman, 43, cheerily accepted double-cheek Fashion Week salutations, posed for a few pictures and gabbed with Linda Fargo, fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman. The music began to thump, and the acclaimed stylist went to work, eyeballing each geometric print that sailed down the catwalk.

Having Michelle Obama as a mega-client earned Goldman this spotlight, but according to several people with knowledge of her White House arrangement, she is no longer the shopper in chief.

That coveted role is now played by Goldman's former protegee and current White House employee, Meredith Koop. The ascent of the 29-year-old personal assistant has caught the imagination of Fashion Week gossips, East Wing obsessives and "All About Eve" fans for weeks. A former Vanderbilt University sorority sister, Koop learned fashion gospel at the altar of Ikram, Goldman's eponymous Chicago boutique. Two years ago, when Michelle Obama left for Washington, Goldman dispatched Koop as an emissary, attending to the first lady's dressing needs inside the family residence. Koop has taken full advantage of proximity to power. Her portfolio has expanded, at the expense of her mentor. This season Koop is in, and Goldman is out.

"Ms. Koop's responsibilities include 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," said Kristina Schake, a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama. She added that Koop's role inside the White House residence required that she "appropriately" decline to "give press interviews or otherwise interact with the media."

Goldman, who is widely seen as loyal to Obama and discreet about their relationship, also declined several requests for comment.

Koop has aggressively courted emerging designers and set 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. And according to several people with knowledge of the dynamic between Goldman, a zaftig brunette originally from Israel, and Koop, a tall and lanky blonde born in Missouri, their distance is more than geographic.

"They were a team," said one intimate, who requested anonymity to discuss how the business partnership between Koop and Goldman fell apart. The rift and the resulting confusion about who watched over the wardrobe of a worldwide fashion icon was "unfortunate."

For months, the split remained confined to the private dressing rooms of the White House. Then a floor-length flame of a red dress entered the picture.

For the Jan. 19 state dinner in honor of Chinese President Hu Jintao, Obama chose a boldly patterned gown made by the fashion house of late British designer Alexander McQueen. In the subsequent days, a drumbeat of sartorial jingoism mounted in Women's Wear Daily, the trade chronicle of the fashion universe. Oscar de la Renta, who had dressed Republican and Democratic first ladies alike before Obama, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, led by Diane von Furstenberg, rebuked the first lady for wearing a foreign label at the highest-profile Pennsylvania Avenue event of the year.

In the state dinner postmortems, Goldman, who'd enjoyed profiles and headlines for previous fashion triumphs with the first lady, appeared blameless.

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