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January 4, 2009

Jarrett, Obama, And A More World White House

Jarrett Vogue.jpg

As the Obama’s arrive in Washington in anticipation of the inauguration, a new chapter begins at The BAG, involving an eye on the visual odyssey of the extended administration.

I was particularly interested in this photo shoot featuring Valerie Jarrett, perhaps Barack and Michelle’s closest advisor, which appeared in Vogue in October.   There are a number of features of the composition worth focusing on, one being the prominence of the PDA. With an assortment of gizmos happening to dominate the NYT Mag’s portrait last month of Roberts Gibbs, the obvious point, reinforced above, is that the new Administration will be wired, networked and technologically-savvy as none before.

The element of the image that can easily be overlooked, however — given the photo was taken by and for Vogue — is Jarrett’s choice of dress. The cheongsam, which first appeared in China in the 1600’s, was ultimately modified into a more fitted and stylish garment in Shanghai in the ’20’s. In this case, I see the presence of the dress as extending beyond a fashion statement.

Having been born in Iran and having lived a year in London before moving to the U.S. at the age of seven, Jarrett — who spoke Farsi and French as a child — has an international orientation that, beyond the political or philosophical, is genetic. Of course, Obama’s own international roots are well-known by now with a father hailing from Kenya; his living, from ages 6 through 10, in Indonesia; and his teen years spent with his grandparent’s in Hawaii’s cultural milieu.   

Given history and biography, what we see above in the person of Jarrett — as we do in Obama (and others in the Administration, including National Security Advisor nominee, Gen. James Jones, for example, who grew up in France and attended the American School of Paris) is a reality that hasn’t necessarily received that much focus in the homeland press. Beyond just the fashion or cultural chic, or an empathy for culture, the Obama administration — in addition to a mixed- and multiracial profile — has an international consciousness at its core.

Vogue’s Valerie Jarrett profile here.

(image: Jonathan Becker)

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