By the time Barbara Tfank began designing for Michelle Obama in 2011, the intense focus on the first lady's fashion choices had relented.
Which is one reason Tfank (pronounced tee-fank) remains a secret weapon even as Obama has worn Tfank's feminine dresses in exquisite fabrics for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of Cambridge, the 2012 State of the Union address and a "Today" show interview, among other high-profile occasions.
Tfank, a former costume designer who recently celebrated 10 years in the fashion design business, told us a bit about her style. She told us a bit about her style in advance of her trunk shows May 14 and 15 at Neiman Marcus Michigan Avenue (312-642-5900).
Q: Can you tell me about your work for Michelle Obama?
A: I've done quite a few florals for her. She loves flowers, and I love flowers. And there's a joyousness to them. At this Wounded Warrior March, she wore a beautiful floral, so life-affirming amid the sadness of war. She was bringing some kind of hope.
Q: Where are you based?
A: In New York and Los Angeles. I have a factory in LA. Everything is made 100 percent in the U.S. I trained on Seventh Avenue in New York where everything was made within a five-block radius up until the '80s. Beautiful clothes were made. I would like to bring that back and in this way show my patriotism.
Q: How would you describe your approach to design?
A: My work is an amalgam of my experience as a costume designer and fashion designer. I also did photo styling in the late '80s and early '90s, and had the good fortune of working with Richard Avedon and other brilliant photographers. I feel like I created brain cells doing that. It was the best art school I could have ever asked for. Working with someone at that level, you learn how something is going to look on camera. So I don't think any of my work has looked bad on camera.
Q: You've also dressed Uma Thurman and Adele. And yet you are kind of under the radar. Do you cultivate that privacy?
A: It's funny, I saw this quote the other day, "What about being quietly beautiful?" There's so much noise and promotion and branding these days. It's not the way I want to be seen. There's a population of women who appreciate that and don't want to feel like they're wearing Runway Look No. 23, regardless of whether it looks good on them or not. I hope to bring a certain discretion back into fashion. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I also think I'm pioneering something new.