Can Michelle Obama save these three stores?

In today's WWD story (subscription required) "The First Lady Effect," Sarah Haight asks how much the obsessive chronicling of Michelle Obama's style actually benefits the designers -- Isabel Toledo, Jason Wu, Thakoon Panichgul -- who dream up her looks. The short answer: not much at all, at least in terms of their bottom lines.

But mass retailers are able to gauge Michelle's impact in much more certain measures. The first lady's relatively affordable fashion choices inspire online-shopping stampedes, near-instant sellouts and never-ending wait lists -- very quickly and in that order. As Time pointed out a few weeks ago, J. Crew's entire online inventory of the bedazzled cardigan Michelle wore during the Obama's April London tour sold out the same day she was photographed in it. And the now-famous black and white printed sheath she wore on the View in June 2008 is still one of White House Black Market's top sellers.
Like their more extravagantly priced counterparts, the mass brands hanging in Michelle's closet haven't enjoyed any significant impact on their balance sheets. But to have her as a model is a marketing godsend -- and in this kind of climate, every bit of free press and every hot-selling item helps. So you can bet that every clothes-peddling executive in the land is praying hard to see their wares show up on the Beltway's most powerful fashionista. And if Michelle's looking to expand her wardrobe, we can think of three companies who could really use her help.

  • KENNETH COLE: The clean lines and basic functionality of Kenneth Cole shoes, apparel and accessories couldn't save it from an $8 million hit in the first quarter. We can totally picture the structurally draped, bold cerulean Smash Hit Satchel hanging from the first lady's elbow -- and one snapshot of her in Cole's classic tortoiseshell oval-shaped sunglasses should knock Ray Ban off its comeback pedestal for good. And why not ditch those $595 Lanvin sneakers for the just-as-comfy Iso Janes flats?
  • EDDIE BAUER: The all-American rugged retailer posted a loss of $44.5 million for the first quarter. Sure, the first lady won't be picking up any gala-circuit necessities at the store, but with Malia and Sasha out of school and Camp David calling, the mom-in-chief likely has some outdoor excursions coming up on her calendar. We suggest a trio of inflatable (brilliant!) Airis Sport 10 kayaks for impromptu lake trips -- and the practical, improbably cute Friday Harbor Ripstop Cooler tote to carry lunch.
  • LIZ CLAIBORNE: The storied brand is hurting badly after reporting a first-quarter loss of $91.4 million and watching its stock fall by 24%. And it may be Liz that Michelle is in the best position to help -- looking at the current collections, we have to wonder if Isaac Mizrahi used Michelle as his muse. It's chock full of bold color, classic silhouettes and modern preppy details. We'd love to see the First Lady rocking the Stretch Watercolor Floral Wrap Dress or the Argyle Intarsia Belted Cardigan -- and making a staple out of the Double-Row Stretch Crystal Bracelet. We recommend you order those items now -- before she takes our advice.
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