If you're interested in Michelle Obama's fashion sense and iconic trendsetting style, then you will not be disappointed by Mary Tomer's new book, "Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy." The beautifully designed tribute, set to hit bookstores today, includes exclusive interviews with designers, photos of original swatches and an up-close peek at accessories made available to Tomer, who is also the brain behind the popular Mrs-O.org blog. Although she has no formal fashion training, Tomer uses her blog to follow The First Lady's every fashion move.
It seemed only natural to then put it all together in a book with 125 candid and formal photos and commentary from fashion insiders such as Jason Wu, Maria Pinto, and Isabel Toledo, some of the First Lady's favorites. In an exclusive interview with ESSENCE.com, Tomer talks about what motivated her to cover Mrs. Obama's wardrobe, what she thinks of Mrs. Obama's fashion faux pas, and attempts to explain our unending fascination with both her style and substance.
ESSENCE.COM: Were there any challenges in putting this book together?
MARY TOMER: I knew I wanted the book to include interviews with Michelle Obama's key designers. As someone who didn't have connections in the fashion industry, I was worried about the feasibility of making this happen. I wrote letters, sent e-mails, went to fashion parties, and just didn't give up. I'm really grateful that so many designers and fashion writers were willing to collaborate.
ESSENCE.COM: What is your overall impression of Michelle Obama's style?
TOMER: I was inspired to start Mrs-O.org in September 2008, directly following the Democratic National Convention. I had already tuned into Michelle Obama's style at that point but it was then that I became absolutely captivated by it. It was striking to see a strong, accomplished woman with such a feminine sense of style—particularly in the realm of politics where boxy skirts and suits are the norm.
ESSENCE.COM: Does her fashion sense remind you of other fashion icons?
TOMER: The remarkable thing about Michelle Obama's style is that it's aspirational, while still relatable. It's become the ideal for many American women. And I think women see a little bit of their own style in hers. In a way, that's who I'm reminded of when I think of Michelle Obama's style—the American woman at her best.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you have any favorite looks featured in the book?
TOMER: One of my favorite looks is the sequined Peter Soronen "Twilight" gown accessorized with a Tom Binns necklace for the 2009 Governors' Dinner (on page 164). The event happened to fall on the same night as the Oscars, and it felt as though the Oscars had suddenly relocated to Washington, D.C. Michelle Obama was breathtaking. Everything about that look just radiated 21st century glamour.
ESSENCE.COM: How did you get access to the real swatches and accessories worn by Mrs. Obama?
TOMER: Once a designer interview was completed, I would ask if any archive samples of key pieces were available to be photographed for the book. In many cases they were. I hired a fantastic intern and, between the two of us, we picked up and returned pieces daily. Some pieces even came from Paris, Milan and Stockholm.
ESSENCE.COM: The First Lady has also been criticized for wearing shorts, flats, going sleeveless, etc. Do you think she'll continue to be a risk taker in coming years?
TOMER: I hope so. Part of what makes following Mrs. Obama's style fun is seeing the risks she takes. Another one of my favorite ensembles is the asymmetric argyle Junya Watanabe cardigan she wore in London last April, which is perhaps the most daring and avant garde she's been to date. The instances when her choices have been frowned upon are simply a natural downside to the intense level of interest.
ESSENCE.COM: It has been so long since we've had children in the White House as young as Malia and Sasha. Do you think they're influencing the children's wear market as much as their mom?
TOMER: The media has been very respectful of Malia and Sasha's privacy to date, so really, we don't know nearly as much about their fashion and I kind of hope it stays that way.