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There’s a Powerful Political Message Behind the Dress in Michelle Obama’s Official White House Portrait

The Obama family has undoubtedly left a positive legacy on this country that will be difficult to compete with, but luckily they haven’t fallen out of the spotlight just yet. Barack and Michelle’s official White House portraits were recently unveiled, and our kween Michelle’s portrait is as unique, innovative and powerful as you would expect. Artist Amy Sherald painted the Former First Lady sitting in an outstanding statement dress designed by Milly co-Founder and creative director Michelle Smith, and the messaging here goes deeper than you can imagine. The dress came inspired by a similar gown from Smith’s spring 2017 collection, highlighting chic geometric stripes complemented by a halter neckline – totally something we could imagine Michelle Obama wearing on a typical day. What the image and dress bring is an overall modern addition to the collection of presidential portraits, and also political significancy that continues the urgency of the Obama’s time in office. 


DESIGNING THE DRESS ❤️ Many of you have asked to see the original sketch I created of Mrs. Obama’s portrait dress. Here she is! If you scroll the carousel you will also see a runway image of the MILLY dress which inspired my creation for Mrs. Obama’s custom-made dress. One of the greatest rewards of being a fashion designer is when an idea comes to life. I love the entire process- from the original idea in my head, to sketching it out on paper in 2 dimensions, then creating a drape of the sketch in three dimensions, then creating a paper pattern from that drape, cutting the dress in the real fabric, sewing it up and then letting that baby out into the world, and seeing it on a person! This went waaaaay beyond that! This one ended up on the former First Lady! Mrs Obama wearing MILLY for her official portrait is the ultimate honor…She’s such an intelligent, warm, genuinely beautiful person inside and out. I cannot wait to take my kids to the @smithsoniannpg to see @asherald ‘s beautiful painting, and I hope they will one day take their children. And their grand children. And their great-grandchildren! It feels amazing and humbling to be a tiny part of the beautiful Obama legacy. Thank you @michelleobama @asherald and @meredithkoop ❤️❤️❤️xoxo @michelleunzipped #obamaportrait

A post shared by MILLY Michelle Smith (@milly) on

Original sketch of Michelle Obama’s portrait dress – Michelle Smith / Instagram

Fun fact: These are the first-ever White House portraits to be painted by African-American artists. And, according to The Washington Post, the original Milly runway gown the dress derived from was inspired by Michelle Smith’s “desire for equality, equality in human rights, racial equality, LGBTQ equality.” We love that – in traditional Michelle Obama style – even her immortalized dress and portrait will be embedded with significance and political messaging. 

Amy Sherald also commented on her interpretation of the dress during the unveiling. “Milly’s design also resembles the inspired quilt masterpieces made by the women of Gee’s Bend, a small remote black community in Alabama where they compose quilts in geometries that transform clothes and fabric remnants into masterpieces.” 

We lowkey miss Mrs. Obama every freaking day, but we’re so glad this portrait is around to reign supreme and prove that her influence extends beyond her time in the White House. The Obama fam has always been breaking boundaries and influencing change, and this is just another testament to that fact.

Kendal is a current student at Cal Poly SLO, class of 2020. She writes and does PR for the Cal Poly Her Campus chapter as well as blogs for Her Campus Nationals. She loves coffee, animals, and anything warm and cozy. Follow her on Instagram @kendalrosem.
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