In Tokyo, Michelle Obama and Her Kenzo Dress

She emerges from the presidential airplane, her slender silhouette exposed to the early spring breeze. Her blow-dry, sensitive to gusts, causes her to move her left hand to combat a runaway strand of hair, while with her right hand she waves and smiles seductively. And then the dress. A Kenzo dress, layers of lemon with origami pleats, structured but not strict. Michelle Obama has a flare for the dramatic. Yesterday, Tokyo’s Haneda Airport served as theater. Lift the curtain: the first lady takes her first steps in Japan without Barack.

The latter visited Tokyo last April, and the absence of his partner caused grumbling among the particularly conservative members of Japanese parliament. So what? Michelle is not simply the “spouse of.” She comes with her own projects. To support them, it is not Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that she will meet first, but first lady Akie Abe. She is here to drink tea, of course, but primarily to promote the initiative Let Girls Learn, whose objective is to improve access to education for the 62 million uneducated girls worldwide.

Two “wives of” who do girl things? Two times rather than one. Michelle Obama uses her own position and role to negotiate her own goals. Is being the president’s wife a story of appearance and pomp? With Michelle, this mode of representation produces conversation, commentary and participation. Take the dress, for instance. Kenzo is the image of Japanese soft power, open to plurality and integration, established in Paris during the 1970s by Kenzo Takada. Today it is led by a Sino-Peruvian and a Korean-American, whose concept stores, Opening Ceremony, mix breeds, such as tiger sweatshirts and zebra harem pants.

This dress affirms on stage the re-appropriation of the tropes of orientalism; a dress which allows Michelle Obama to announce with a glance what Japan she dreams of, while recently the first-ever multi=ethnic Miss Universe contestant of that country (Ariana Miyamoto was born of to a Japanese mother and African-American father) aroused controversy on social media regarding her fitness to “represent” the archipelago.

Yes, after hardly setting foot on the Tokyo tarmac, Michelle Obama has already opened the debate on diversity and plural identities. In terms of diplomatic efficacy, it is simply striking, don’t you think?

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