Malia and Michelle Obama, AP
by Olivia Barker, USA TODAY
At age 14, most girls are clamoring to wear designer duds. Malia Obama, on the other hand, has designers clamoring to dress her.
Glowing in her shiny sapphire ASOS circle skirt and neon pink Zara belt, Malia was yet one more winner on election night, taking another step, in her black J.Crew flats, toward becoming "a real style icon," as Lucky executive fashion director Alexis Bryan Morgan puts it.
"I'm hard pressed to think of anyone, period, who had such great style potential at 14. She has all the elements that make a great fashionista" - the ability to play with patterns and colors in a range of prices and the poise to pull it off. "It's really exceptional."
When it comes to fashion, the elder first daughter is following in the first lady's kitten-heeled footsteps. And the industry is as eager to embrace Malia Obama as they have Michelle.
"I don't know how her parents feel about it, but I think it's going to be the countdown until she has a fashion magazine cover," Morgan says. "It's going to be a huge thing."
"She would be, like, the perfect fashion plate for the fashion industry," says designer Rebecca Taylor, who recently dressed Kate Middleton for the first time and likens the duchess' style to Malia's. Taylor says she would "absolutely" love to see one of the world's most-watched teenagers in her clothes. "She has a similar sort of vibe (to Middleton): a quiet reserve but projects a sort of magnetism. And look at the length of those legs! That's unfair."
Indeed, largely through dint of genetic lottery, it seems, Malia Obama has managed to all but avoid an awkward adolescence. At her age, standing nearly as tall as her 5-foot-11 mother is more than a literal boost, says designer Nanette Lepore (Michelle Obama wore a polka-dot cardigan by Lepore to an Olympic event this summer). "It helps avoid the geeky stage."
Still, there's something more ineffable about her style success, industry insiders say. "It's amazing to me that (she and sister Sasha, 11) can still function in that crazy world and still come off as cool and elegant," says Lepore, who dreams of seeing the girls sitting front row at New York Fashion Week.
Thank their mom, says Seventeen fashion director Gina Kelly. "How her mother dresses is obviously rubbing off on" Malia: the fit-and-flare silhouettes, the vintage-esque outfits. Kelly compares Malia to Taylor Swift. "It's very pretty and feminine. It's a little bit preppy-classic, but it's never boring."
And it's a sophisticated contrast to the short-and-tight look paraded by other teens under intense scrutiny, such as Miley Cyrus. "A red-and-white striped T-shirt and green shorts (what Malia wore during a Hawaiian vacation) - that's more interesting than a pair of denim cutoffs and a half-shirt," Kelly says.
"Sometimes kids in the public eye can grow up too quickly - they're very fashion-y or too mature or too sexy," says Taylor. "There's a nice conservativeness to what (Malia is) wearing, but it's still fresh and young," and, for the teens wanting to emulate her, highly accessible.
"That's inspiring to girls," Kelly says. "Especially when they're that age, they're not too confident in trying new trends or putting together clothes in a different way," such as pairing a casual scoopneck top with a party skirt, as Malia did election night. "Girls are really hungry for, 'Gosh, how do I wear it?' and I think she can show them that."
Of course, as a prominent political daughter, appropriateness is paramount when it comes to her wardrobe. And in contrast to 1993, when a 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton moved into the White House, "we have access to pictures all the time of the first family," Kelly points out. As a result, "I don't know if (the first daughter's look) is a little more studied now. When (Malia) goes out, she knows she's going to be photographed."
But she's playing with the cameras precociously. "She's smart in that she seems to be aware so many eyes are on her," Morgan says. "Her style seems very genuine. It doesn't look like somebody just put something on her on election night. She's adding her own twist and having fun. You can't really have style unless you're being true to herself."
Factor in "that big smile," Morgan says, and "she's completely a home run."
Copyright 2012 USATODAY.com