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Michelle Obama all the buzz at New York's Fashion Week -- though she stayed in Washington

February 19, 2009 | 10:40 am

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First Lady Michelle Obama wasn't even there.

In fact, the first lady was in the White House, celebrating Black History Month by inviting a group of sixth- and seventh-graders to hear a concert by Sweet Honey in the Rock. She asked the kids, "Did you know that African American slaves helped to build this house?"

But Mrs. O., the style successor to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who's on the cover of the March issue of Vogue magazine, nevertheless had a big impact on New York's Fashion Week.

First, there was Hilary Alexander, fashion writer for the Daily Telegraph of London, suggesting on the Telegraph TV Video below that the American first lady had influenced the models, the designers and even the colors used this year. "The Obama effect was colorful, exuberant and as as culturally diverse as anything out of Africa," she cooed.

Then there was the excitement over Jason Wu, who designed Mrs. Obama's inaugural ball gown, and Maria Pinto, the first lady's favorite Chicago designer, author of some of the knockout outfits Michelle Obama wore to the Democratic National Convention last summer.

But the $350-billion fashion industry is not immune from the recession that is plaguing Detroit, Wall Street and every other sector of the U.S. economy. So with retailers reeling -- Macy’s has cut 7,000 jobs and Saks Fifth Avenue slashed 1,100 jobs last month -- Mrs. Obama's appreciation of clothes gave the fashion industry something to cheer.

"It's not fair to pin the hopes of the whole industry on one woman, but she has proved she can fuel excitement and optimism, just like her husband," said Constance White, style director for EBay.

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-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian / White House

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