Michelle Obama’s Yellow Dress : Shades of Oshun

“Oshun” by Brigid Ashwood.

Oshun is an Afro-Cuban goddess of love, maternity and marriage.

By Karen Lee Wald
/ The Rag Blog / January 24, 2009

Since several people commented that Michelle Obama was wearing a yellow dress designed by a Cuban American, and that yellow is the color of the African and Afro-Cuban goddess or orisha, Oshun, I thought it worth passing on some information about Oshun, for whatever it is worth to you.

Specialists in the topic can add more, this is just from googling it:

Oshun — with a nod to Wikipedia — is beneficient and generous, and very kind. She does, however, have a horrific temper, though it is difficult to anger her. She is married to Ṣàngó, the god of thunder, and is his favorite wife because of her excellent cooking skills. One of his other wives, Oba, was her rival. They are the goddesses of the Ọṣun and Oba rivers, which meet in a turbulent place with difficult rapids.


In Cuban Santería, Oshun (sometimes spelled Ochún or Ochun) is an Orisha of love, maternity and marriage. She has been syncretized with Our Lady of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre), Cuba’s patroness. She is associated with the color yellow,

[Karen Wald edits Cuba-Inside-Out.]

Kate Betts wrote in Time:

First Lady Michelle Obama picked fashion insider Isabel Toledo, 47, to design her Inaugural ensemble. The glamorous, creamy yellow dress and matching overcoat were made of satin-backed wool guipure, a kind of lace used most often in French haute couture. Obama accessorized the look with a sparkling crystal necklace and green leather gloves and shoes. […]

Cuban-born Toledo, who has been designing for 25 years and worked for a time at Anne Klein, is known in fashion circles as a “designer’s designer” for her wit and whimsical sense of pattern, fit and fabric. The Manhattan-based designer also made the black tunic and palazzo pants that Obama wore to a fundraiser last June. But for her husband’s swearing-in ceremony, Obama chose an elegantly sunny yellow, a color that for centuries has represented optimism.

Toledo, who works out of a studio on Broadway and 28th Street along with her husband, fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo, was an unlikely choice for today’s ensemble because she is not a mainstream designer. In 1998 the fashion maverick stopped presenting biannual collections, instead choosing to create on her own schedule. […]

“I was so honored to hear that she’s a fan,” Toledo said after learning that Obama had worn one of her designs during the campaign. “She chose to wear a dress made by a Latina and made in the U.S.,” the designer told the New York Daily News. “She chose to support the industry here.”

And George Spyros, in The Huffington Post.

Questions of taste aside, we think it’s great that Cuban-American Toledo did the dress for the first African-American first lady: it’s an inclusive gesture to our country’s latinos and a hopeful nod toward our neighbors in Cuba to the south.

And, to follow the tangent, more about Oshun, this from Lowell:

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar… but if the Cuban-American designer was thinking of or under the influence of Ochun, I’d like the add this: Ochun is the most powerful, most revered oricha. She was not married to but had affairs with Chango and Oggun, was married to to Orunla, Inle Abata and Babaluaye. Chango was married to Oya Yansan. Ochun was given the river as a domain by Yemaya and Aggayu. Ochun has the last word in all affairs, so she is ONE oricha you never want to piss off, she is the oricha who always wins. Annoy Obatala, but if Ochun has your side, you will come out alright.

One of my favorite patakins [stories/folktales] is when humanity had come to dishonor the gods and be lured into new ways. When death and drought came, the people prayed to the gods for relief; none took pity, having lost faith in human beings. Uniquely, Ochun, the youngest oricha, took her beautiful messenger bird to Heaven to speak on humanity’s behalf. God heard her and brought rain and relief. The beautiful bird Ochun used was forever scarred by the journey so close to the sun: this is how the vulture came to look as it does. The vulture is one of her messengers, as are the partridge and quail.

The arts of divination were the sole propriety of Orunla, until Ochun studied after him with certain limits: so while babalawos may read the full range of texts, priests of oricha retain this limit. One of Ochun’s titles is Apetiba Orunla, wife of Orula, who was a king and was able to spread his divination message thanks to his wife, Ochun’s study. Iyalodde [the crowned woman] is another of Ochun’s titles. Just as Orula would not have had success without Ochun, his priests, the babalawos, have a special place for Ochun in their worship … Obama?

Ochun is the only oricha of LIFE and the FIGHT FOR LIFE. Ochun is the oricha of SOCIAL JUSTICE.

Fidel is from the region of Cuba where Ochun’s basilica is located. When he started fighting, his mother took offerings to the basilica for Ochun [la virgen de caridad del cobre. The persistent rumor is Fidel is a babalawo.

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2 Responses to Michelle Obama’s Yellow Dress : Shades of Oshun

  1. Anonymous says:

    The fabric of this idea is sew fanciful, it seams to stretch the imagination.

  2. Now that was cute (re the above comment)…can’t let my husband read it or he might have an organza (smile).

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