AFTER Mrs Obama's lovely frocks - glamourous and chic without being overly flashy - in India, what she wore on the United States First Couple's 18-hour visit to Jakarta was slightly disappointing.
Mrs Obama's choice of outfits in India reflected her elegant taste, and an effort to pay tribute to India's heritage of richly-coloured, finely-detailed and hand-crafted textiles.
At a state dinner in New Delhi, she chose the creations of American designer Rachel Roy (who is of Indian and Dutch heritage), pairing a gold tunic with a metallic silver floor-length velvet skirt.
Then, at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, she paired a stretchy black top with a quirky flower pin on her left shoulder, and a lush green and purple skirt by Belgian designer Dries van Noten. The colours blended in with the greenery of the site, and the rose petals that Mr and Mrs Obama scattered on the memorial.
Writer Robin Givhan of the Washington Post pointed out that Mrs Obama's choice of outfit 'speaks to India's expertise in embroidery and beading'.
Designer Van Noten, Ms Givhan went on to say, 'is known for his love for ethnic-inspired fabrics and lavish decoration [and] is particularly indebted to the country's skill at fine handiwork'.
In Indonesia, Mrs Obama's outfits seemed purposefully modest, but unnecessarily so.
On the tarmac in Jakarta's Halim airport, she was all covered up in a black-and-red patterned tunic and black flare pants, in the style of the Indian salwar-kameez. At the state dinner later, she wore a brown and taupe printed dress by Chinese-American designer Derek Lam. The dress prints were reminiscent of traditional ikat - woven and dyed - fabric. She also wore a bib necklace with a pretty gold and brown stones by Indian designer Ranjana Khan but the necklace ended up blending into the dress.
However, her chartreuse pantsuit the next morning, when she visited the Indonesia’s famed Istiqlal Mosque, was a flop. It was unflattering and the pants were too long - in fact, they were dragging on the ground and she had to hold them up.
The Mrs O blog, which charts Mrs Obama's fashion choices, said the First Lady had debuted the pantsuit in July, when she wore it cinched at the waist with a glittery belt and heels. But when buttoned up, paired with stockinged feet and a silk scarf - fashioned into a headscarf, as she covered her head to follow Muslim custom - she looked plain frumpy.
Mrs Obama's chartreuse pantsuit failed to impress. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
It was almost as if the First Lady, who had the right intentions of dressing modestly, was given the wrong advice by her aides. Some 90 per cent of Indonesia's population are Muslim, but they are mostly moderate and would not bat an eyelid at form-fitting clothes in the big cities. Jakarta women especially are not afraid of showing skin – this is particularly obvious at dance clubs and wine lounges. At gala events, the traditional kebaya has been spotted both glammed-up and deconstructed, in an array of bright colours, embellished with bling, with see-through lace and thigh-high slits.
At the Istiqlal mosque, Mrs Obama would have been expected to wear something conservative, but this could have taken the form of a flowing caftan, long harem pants with a tunic or even tailored pants and a structured long jacket, all paired with some baubles. Those items do star in the collections of Indonesia's 'Islamic' fashion designers.
Fashionistas here would have wanted to see more traditional textiles - from batik to woven fabrics like
songket and tenun - on the First Lady. For now, they can only wait in hope to see if a homegrown designer
gets his day in the sun. Paris-trained Priyo Oktaviano made a bright purple sleeveless dress from Balinese songket which he presented to Mrs Obama earlier this week. Mr Priyo is a well-known face in the Jakarta fashion circuit, his drapey-tunic dresses and whimsical brocade designs popular among professionals and the tai-tai set. He said he had looked up Mrs Obama's size on the Internet.
There has been no word on whether Mrs Obama kept the dress or if so, whether she will wear it.
But Mr Priyo, in comments to The Jakarta Globe, said: 'Michelle liked the songket.'