Michelle Obama may be the style icon in her family, but here in the East Bay, her elder daughter is stealing that spotlight.
On the historic election night three weeks ago, Malia Obama wore a dress designed by Oakland-based Biscotti, a company that started two decades ago in president and design director Bernadette Reiss's basement. The famed dress, now the envy of little girls across the country, is red taffeta with a bubble skirt and velvet belt. The Obamas purchased it at Nordstrom in Chicago for $110.
For the 70 employees who work in a 70,000-square-feet East Oakland warehouse, it was a shock to see their dress on national television. "It was a heart-stopping moment," says Reiss. "I looked at my husband and said, 'Bob, I think that's our dress!'"
For Kerin Lou and Jennifer Duetting, who actually designed the "Malia," it was a pleasant surprise. "The next morning was pretty exciting," recalls Lou, over the roar of BART, which runs alongside her warehouse studio. "Everyone was calling and trying to get the dress."
Originally, 1,500 copies of the dress were made and shipped to specialty stores and major retailers such as Nordstrom in September. So by the time Malia walked out on stage wearing it, 75 percent were probabzly sold, Reiss says. But the Biscotti staff met demands by cutting and sewing an extra 100 dresses and shipping them out immediately.
Naturally, everyone wants to know if Biscotti will outfit the Obama girls for their father's inauguration, and, if so, what would the company design?
"It would be an honor," says Reiss, who is trying to contact Michelle Obama's spokesperson to offer her services. Because Michelle Obama likes to coordinate her outfits with the girls', Reiss would need to know what she plans to wear to capture the right color palette and feeling of the moment, she says.
Her current choice is a line of dresses and suits in an ivory-and-gold tapestry fabric. The dresses have delicate, pearled empire waists. The suits have cream-colored faux fur collars. "They are age- and occasion-appropriate," Reiss says. "And the color would look beautiful on them."
With two youngsters running through the halls of the White House — the first time since the Kennedy administration — it's a good time for children's formal wear, which is Biscotti's specialty and won them the 2008 Earnie Award for design excellence in girl's dress wear.
And in a dire economy, this retail boost couldn't have come at a better time.
"Fashion in the United States is getting more and more casual so girls don't have a lot of occasions to get dressed up," Reiss says. "This dress is a piece of history."
Reach Jessica Yadegaran at 925-943-8155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.