Meredith Koop on Michelle Obama, ‘Becoming,’ and Finding the Humanity in Fashion –

There are several poignant moments in the Netflix film Becoming, which documents Michelle Obama ’s memoir and her sold-out 34-city tour. Watching the film, you’re at once moved by Obama and the way that she connects so genuinely with her fans and also saddened by the stark comparison between a first family with grace and dignity and the president we’re stuck with now. One such touching yet sad moment comes in the first few minutes of Becoming. The Obamas are exiting the White House for the final time, and Obama narrates the scene, explaining, as she did in her book, that she was holding back tears but also relieved. The feeling she describes is a “release of eight years of trying to do everything perfectly.”

No one could argue that the Obamas weren’t held to a higher standard than any other first family, largely and unfairly because they were the first black family to occupy the White House. Perfection isn’t the point, though. The Obamas were approachable, personable, kind, empathetic, and encouraging of a hopeful, prosperous future. Michelle Obama, in particular, remained focused on her missions, youth education and health, and it never felt premeditated or prescribed but instead honest and transparent. She’s never really cared for politics, as she’s said publicly since leaving the White House, and it showed in all of the very best ways. As first lady, Obama played the part but never lost sight of who she was: a mother, a wife, a lawyer, and a woman brought up in a loving, humble home on the South Side of Chicago.

Meredith Koop, her stylist since 2010, had an important role in making sure that Obama’s outward-facing appearance was always on point. Together, they worked to “turn fashion into [a] tool,” as the former first lady explains in Becoming. The clothes were strategic and symbolic but never frivolous or impractical. And they made an effort to promote a diverse group of both established and emerging designers, those like Tracy Reese, Narciso Rodriguez, Jason Wu, and Brandon Maxwell.

Once the White House was in the rearview mirror and Koop began brainstorming ideas for the book tour, it felt like a newfound freedom for her. “The book tour was a completely different energy, and there was more of an opportunity to breathe and experiment and try new things,” says Koop, who is currently self-isolating with her boyfriend in New York. “I think that everyone working in the Obama White House felt a lot of pressure to be as close to perfect as possible and to avoid mistakes and negative optics. I can say with some certainty that everyone there during that time was trying to support the president in working towards this bigger purpose, working towards health care and LGBTQ rights and things that are so much bigger than one individual.” During Obama’s White House years, Koop struck a balance between her personal style and one that spoke to her family’s policies smartly, not loudly. “I had to learn on a few occasions the hard way to practice restraint and be more risk averse,” Koop says of the White House years. “I couldn’t really approach the styling like, ‘Oh, this is so fabulous, this is beautiful.’ That wasn’t the primary goal.”


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