President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet President Kenyatta, and Mrs. Kenyatta, during the United Nations General Assembly reception at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, N.Y., Sept. 23, 2014. When that picture first popped on my twitter feed I stared. I immediately missed that gorgeous crop of silver hair. It felt like her fire had been extinguished. She looked slight too. And, against the dark suits and a body-confident Michelle Obama, Margaret Kenyatta stood out.
At 3.45pm I was reading my 12th “have you seen what the First Lady is wearing?” alert.
They come with a fascinating mix of outrage and irritation. Yes, I kept replying, I had.
When that picture first popped on my twitter feed I stared. I immediately missed that gorgeous crop of silver hair.
It felt like her fire had been extinguished. She looked slight too. And, against the dark suits and a body-confident Michelle Obama, Margaret Kenyatta stood out.
The heads of State and government were, attending UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly in New York. With it, photographic proof said event was taking place in real time. Wrapped around this was the snowballing of opinionated feedback.
It told me two things – one, we own Margaret Kenyatta. That deeply offended stance we adopted existed because we feel she is ‘ours.’ In that sense of ownership lies pride. We want her to make us look good.
Us, a people who despite ‘owning’ the world’s most beautiful woman somehow landed on a dubious list as home to Africa’s most unattractive faces. Us; Kenyans who make waves and lay rightful claim to one Barack Obama. We have been rooting for Margaret with every literal step she makes.
She made us fall in love with her. Then, she did this. The indignation was beautiful; so visceral and expressive.
Following a near decade of being regaled with Michelle’s toned arms, deep caramel skin, fantasy hair and Vogue covers, we positively needed Margaret Kenyatta. She was supposed to be everything we ever wanted and more.
Coupled with her incontrovertible ability to thoroughly sidestep any form of personal media attention, she is at once as accessible as she is mysterious. We root for her aristocratic style. We check out her nail polish. We suss out her pearls. And then, she did that.
Putting aside the vested interests we have acquired over the First Lady’s wardrobe is how we now ask interested questions: who dressed her? (she did it herself?)
Does she have a stylist (I haven’t a clue. None of the stylists I know have stepped out to stake this particular claim); and general consensus grasped, if she has one, this is precisely the kind of gig that can get you fired.
Then, most fabulously, who is the designer? Margaret, you finally did it. You made us give two hoots about not just your fashion sense, but Kenyan fashion, period.
That we are so enmeshed in your wardrobe, wrapped in the emotion of it we can actively voice it and be indifferent no more - I can’t help but feel this calls for a toast.
Now, about that dress. I noticed the detailing in the fabric, a sort of exquisitely-woven lacey concoction; the turquoise blend reminiscent of a bubbling, frothy ocean; a tad pale and because of this, almost slicing a touch of joy off her complexion even though it is precisely the kind of colour that ideally illuminates African skin.
Then, of course, there is the typical African silhouette. It is difficult to tell where it begins. Michelle unwittingly becomes the underscore against the dash of Margaret’s dress.
Obviously, Margaret doesn’t lack fashion sense. Sometimes bad clothes happen to good people. Consistently, her silhouettes are fitted and streamlined, hitting just below the knee or the occasional mid-calf. It is a look extracted of sex appeal. In its’ stead rests interesting hip-length blazers, understated jewellery with a penchant for pearls, court shoes and a generous sprinkling of little dresses.
She favours reds, a black and white combo and is prone to neutral shades. She generally gets it right.
The frustration stems from a designer void. We don’t know which kind of local designers or style aesthetic she is drawn to. Her style slate is so conservative it can sometimes border on bland.
We want images that can go viral. We want it juxtaposed against a backdrop of power as much as we demand relatability. We don’t want skin. Except when we do. We love her hair. Except when we don’t.
My gut loved this look. I am sticking with my gut. I admit it looked like a meet-the-in-laws dress. It was impossible to salvage the silhouette and the dress. It is what it’s not. Curiously, what was liked and disliked about this look is rather similar.
In our Maggy we see women we know. Women of a certain age, stature, cloak of respectability.
We view her as we do them, through as many filters and perspectives as there are people. Here’s the thing I loved best. The sense of outrage she inspired is so exciting it offers remarkable insight into precisely what it is she needs to do next.