Beyonce, Gisele Bundchen and Peng Liyuan: What do a global pop star, an international supermodel and China’s first lady all have in common? All three, along with a handful of other intellectuals, fashion icons, musicians and writers, were honored in Vanity Fair’s 2013 International Best Dressed List.
Peng Liyuan, likely to be the newest addition to the fashion world’s radar, is the wife of China’s new president, Xi Jinping, both of them only officially taking the helm this past March as the country’s power couple. Noticeably missing from the list was Michelle Obama, one of the America’s most lauded fashionable first ladies. New York-based fashion blogger Dhani Mau thinks that excluding Obama was one of the most surprising snubs. “We can think of more than a few snubs… but the biggest would probably have to be Michelle Obama, who was subbed last year as well,” Mau wrote on Fashionista.com. “Especially when you consider some of the men and women who made the list over her, like Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan, and fashion blogger Hallie Swanson.”
While Mau is contesting Peng’s position on the annual list, many in China will likely disagree. Peng has quickly made waves in China, especially when it comes to fashion. While her husband deals with international politicking, Peng has eclipsed Xi’s fame as a cultural icon.
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Peng was first recognized for her modern and polished fashion sense while accompanying her husband on a series of international trips, including her debut in Russia, where she stepped off the plane sporting a double-breasted peacoat and handbag made by Chinese designers. Peng has been a huge supporter of Chinese-designed fashion labels. Her most “notable ensemble of 2013,” as style magazine Vanity Fair puts it, was the outfit she wore in Russia. Many Chinese were in awe over Peng’s classic-yet-fashionable choices-- especially compared to China’s often drab, cookie-cutter politicians—and were quickly copying it. As photos of Peng went viral across China’s web, knock-off versions of her jacket, dubbed “First Lady Coats”, were selling out on the country’s e-commerce website, Taobao.
In addition to being a fashion icon, Peng also holds a position at the United Nations World Health Organization as a goodwill ambassador for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Her recognition as an international fashion icon by Vanity Fair is just one of the lists Peng has made her debut on. In May, Forbes ranked Peng as the no. 54 on this year’s list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. Among her other achievements earlier in life, finding fame even before her husband as a folk singer, Forbes gave Peng recognition as one of this year’s women “who are inspiring change and driving conversation.”
“Since her husband’s rise in politics, she’s taken a step back from performing, but has emerged as a fashion icon and trendsetter.”