'It's dreadful what Michelle wears'

Tim Teeman

New York, March 9: She has been hailed for making famous unknown designers, such as Jason Wu. Her dresses inspire as much debate as the US debt ceiling ' and considerably more adulation. If she wears a J Crew cardigan it sells out in seconds.

But Michelle Obama, hailed as the most fashionable First Lady since Jackie Kennedy, has been criticised for her fashion sense by Dame Vivienne Westwood, one of Britain's most iconoclastic and celebrated designers.

"It's dreadful what she wears.... I don't want to talk about it. Really, I can't. She's a very nice-looking lady, but it's a non-starter regarding clothes that suit her," Dame Vivienne told The New York Times.

"Jackie Kennedy was a different matter altogether. It just has to suit her and be something that makes a human being more glamorous. That's what fashion is there for. It's there to help, not just to make you look more conservative."

Dame Vivienne, who once customised Punk with safety pins and tartan, also rebuked the Duchess of Cambridge.

"It would be a wonderful thing for her to wear her clothes more than once. She's getting this wonderful look, but if she has a red look today, why does she have to wear the blue look tomorrow? It's just by way of an example to other people: don't buy so many clothes."

Dame Vivienne previously recommended the Queen wear the same outfit for public occasions: "It would make the point that you don't always have to change your dress to be important in the world."

Last year, she admitted she had gone from being a fervent anti-royalist to admiring the Queen as "absolutely great".

Michelle is the latest of Dame Vivienne's targets: last year the designer, who wore no knickers at Buckingham Palace when collecting her OBE in 1992 and on being made a Dame in 2006, said: "People have never looked so ugly. Everybody looks like clones."

Her anti-Michelle diatribe may not find much currency in America, where the First Lady's fashion choices are almost universally applauded, mixing "high and low" big-name designers like Alexander McQueen, Isaac Mizrahi and Narciso Rodriguez, alongside unknowns such as Wu, as well as the mass market.

A red-and-white-check dress from Asos.com which Michelle wore last year ' and which sold out immediately ' was put on sale again two weeks ago.

Her inauguration gowns designed by Wu in 2008 and this year won plaudits. Her and her daughter Malia's J. Crew accessories, including a rhinestone belt, worn at the 2013 inauguration ceremony, immediately sold out.

The stunning pink-and-silver Tracy Reese dress Michelle wore at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 brought the designer immediate fame and, like many First Lady dresses, emphasised her toned arms. Asda created a �20 copy of the purple Michael Kors dress Michelle wore the night her husband was re-elected.

Michelle has an unenviable aesthetic tightrope to negotiate: to look fashionable ' her inclination appears to be towards the daring ' while not as visibly extravagant as former First Ladies such as Nancy Reagan.

One Right-wing pundit criticised her for wearing a $6,800 J. Mendel jacket at a Buckingham Palace Olympics reception last year ' "more than the average American family makes in a month".

Michelle shrugs off the sniping.

"Shoot, my bangs set off a national conversation," she said recently. "My shoes can set off a national conversation. I just don't think about that stuff."

The Times, London