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The Stylist To First Lady Michelle Obama Finally Opens Up
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TOPIC: The Stylist To First Lady Michelle Obama Finally Opens Up
The Stylist To First Lady Michelle Obama Finally Opens Up 2 Years, 2 Months ago  
In the eight years since Barack Obama took office as president of the United States, his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, has embraced fashion as a powerful form of communication, helping to cultivate an image of American style that has been groundbreaking, inclusive, and thoroughly modern.

Mrs. Obama, though, hasn't done it alone. Since 2009, Meredith Koop has served as the first lady's fashion and wardrobe adviser. The 35-year-old Missouri native started her career as a sales associate at the Chicago boutique Ikram. It was Koop's connection to the store's owner, Ikram Goldman, that afforded her an introduction to the then senator's wife and Ikram client, Mrs. Obama. After the 2008 election, as the new first family was preparing to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Koop was tapped to help with the transition. Since then she has worked with Mrs. Obama on the first lady's wardrobe strategy.

Michelle Obama's fashion choices—from the Jason Wu gown she wore on inauguration night in 2009 to the ivory strapless Brandon Maxwell dress she appeared in at a state dinner earlier this year—have always been inspired. American designers such as Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, Narciso Rodriguez, Joseph Altuzarra, and Naeem Khan have all featured prominently in her wardrobe alongside more accessibly priced separates by brands like J. Crew and Ann Taylor, and the number of looks she has worn by young designers has been unprecedented for a first lady. From the outset, Koop understood that for Mrs. Obama, style and substance went hand in hand. "In the beginning, designers used the phrase 'first ladyish' to describe a certain traditional look. We really had to break that mold," Koop says. "Highlighting designers from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of success and exposure became an important part of my role."

Koop enters the White House every morning through the same set of double doors near the kitchen and the flower shop, but what she encounters each day runs the gamut. There are long-planned events to juggle with last-minute scheduling changes and preparations for the first lady's extensive travel itinerary. "There is a whole different set of considerations when she goes to visit troops on a base, hosts a music event at the White House, meets with foreign leaders," Koop says. One aspect of the job Koop particularly enjoys is styling Mrs. Obama for overseas trips. For a visit to London earlier this year, the first lady wore an all-British wardrobe of Christopher Kane, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, and Mary Katrantzou; in Tokyo this past July she touched down in a dress by Kenzo. "We always take into account where we are going and that country's cultural norms," says Koop. "The goal is to pay tribute to each place we visit [while] never losing the spirit of the United States."

In October 2014, the first lady hosted the Fashion Education Workshop as part of her Reach Higher initiative, which encourages students to pursue higher education—even in nontraditional fields. The event, spearheaded by Koop, brought together designers such as Wu, Diane von Furstenberg, and Jenna Lyons, entrepreneurs, journalists, and more than 200 high school and college students in the East Room of the White House for a discussion about educational and career opportunities in fashion. Mrs. Obama appeared in a dress designed by Fashion Institute of Technology student Natalya Koval, who was also in attendance. "When [the first lady] wears an up-and-coming designer, it creates this feeling that anything is possible," Koop explains. "This is something the first lady talks a lot about with young people, how important it is to follow their dreams and work hard no matter what obstacles come their way. I wanted to translate that very message into her clothing."

After eight years, Koop and the first lady have an easy rapport. "She trusts me, and I don't take that for granted," Koop says. Likewise, the first lady values Koop's work. "I am so grateful for Meredith's passion, dedication, and extraordinary talent," Mrs. Obama says. 
"I am impressed by her professionalism, her attention to detail, and her ability to think not only about fashion but also the importance of the moment and the message. She is integral to the overall strategy of my office and is someone I can always depend on. I consider myself lucky to call her a friend."

With the Obamas set to leave the White House in January, Koop is thinking about the future. "After this, I want to dress a range of inspiring women, from corporate leaders to artists to actors to musicians," she says. "I've been dreaming about creating an in-depth documentary series that explores the intersections of fashion, culture, politics, religion, and economy both domestically and abroad." Importantly, she adds, "I also want to be involved in the sustainability movement that is happening in fashion today. There is a lot to be done in this area and I want to contribute."

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