Fashionistas may be agog over First Lady Michelle Obama, but Mrs. O has avoided the usual red-haute stylists. Instead, she prefers her good friend, Ikram Goldman, to act as a style adviser and go-between to fill White House closets with runway designs and the off-the rack separates that have become overnight sell-outs.
Chicago boutique owner Ikram, who affectionately refers to her most special client as Mel, has orchestrated almost every outfit of note since Michelle Obama took her first steps into the spotlight over a year ago. Fiercely protective and flawlessly discreet, the Israeli-born fashion guru conducts a cloak and dagger operation to ensure no-one has a clue what Mrs O will wear next.
Ikram speaks only to the designers, placing calls herself and ordering pieces fresh from the fashion show for "a very important client," whose vital statistics are more closely guarded than Tim Geitner's tax returns. She also collaborates closely with the designer to make essential modifications on original designs, since what prompts gushes of admiration on the runway would surely get gasps of horror on the world stage.
It isn't unusual for one outfit to undergo repeated back and forth. A few inches on the hem, an extra panel at the side, a special lining, an exclusive shade of pink...These are just some of the requested tweeks for Fashion's First Lady, often with a 24-hour deadline. But as one designer, who insisted on anonymity, says, "Ikram has the ability to make everyone she meets feel special, so we all bend over backwards to please her."
As well as keeping her self-named boutique jammed with the coolest collections on the planet, Ikram is constantly on the look-out for pieces with which to stockpile Mrs. O's closet. It's a vocation which ensures the First Lady is always fashion-forward and appropriately-attired whether she's making a surprise visit to a school or meeting a world leader.
Mrs Obama and Ikram's relationship is downplayed by White House reps who remain afflicted with the archaic notion that one cannot be clever and accomplished and love clothes all at the same time. But rest assured it is Ikram who has evolved her friend Mel's inherent style into global fashion icon status. And who, within a very short space of time, has prompted women the world over to declare any item of clothing that's pretty, bold, strong and sexy, "so Michelle Obama" -- and buy it!
Mandi Norwood is the author of "Michelle Style: Celebrating the First Lady of Fashion" (Morrow/Harper Collins)