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Michelle Obama's inaugural gown goes to Smithsonian -- Jason Wu too (text here)

March 9, 2010 |  9:27 am

It was the dress heard 'round the fashion world -- a white chiffon one-shoulder gown made by a little-known Chinese American fashion designer named Jason Wu.

Now Wu is famous -- he is sometimes called the new Oscar de la Renta -- and his muse, First Lady Michelle Obama, is giving her 2009 inaugural gown away.

Actually she's giving it to the Smithsonian, where every first lady since Helen Taft in 1912 has personally delivered her gown to the National Museum of American History and where curators have researched and assembled the gowns of all the first ladies before that -- some re-created from archived records.

The "First Ladies at the Smithsonian" exhibit at the museum is widely popular. As the Washington Post's Robin Givhan put it, "Every four years the country has a collective fashion moment." In fact, the exhibit has grown so popular that when Obama's gown goes on display to the public Wednesday, it will debut as part of a new gallery called “A First Lady’s Debut,” which includes 11 other gowns worn by first ladies, beginning with Mamie Eisenhower (her 1953 inaugural pink gown, designed by Nettie Rosenstein, had 2,000 rhinestones), along with china, portraits and other evocative memorabilia.

In a departure from tradition, Michelle Obama invited 32 aspiring young designers from....

...New York's Huntington High School Fashion Program to witness the private ceremony in which the gown was donated.

It was the first time she had met Wu, now 28, the youngest designer ever to outfit a first lady at her inaugural. An immigrant from Taiwan, Wu thanked the first lady for "letting my story become a small part of the events," surrounding Barack Obama's historic inaugural as the first African American to win the presidency.

As for Mrs. Obama, you can read her remarks below, as provided by the White House.


-- Johanna Neuman

Photos: Michelle Obama, in her inaugural gown, and husband dance. Credit: Getty Images. Some of the dresses in the new gallery "A First Lady's Debut." Credit: Associated Press

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Office of the First Lady For Immediate Release                       March 9, 2010
Museum of American History
Washington, D.C.
10:42 A.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, everyone.  Thanks so much.
Well, clearly, it’s a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you today.
Let me begin by thanking Secretary Clough for that generous introduction.  I want to thank him and his wife Anne for their dedication to the mission of the Smithsonian.
And I want to thank our hosts from the National Museum of American History -- Dr. Brent Glass and John Rogers.  Thank you for making these museums such wonderful places for people of all ages to learn and to explore.
And I have to also do my part in recognizing our very special guests, the students and the teachers from Huntington High School, who made the trip all the way from New York to be here.  You all please stand so we can see you.  (Applause.)  Now, there’s a special reason why I invited these students here.  They sent me this book of beautifully designed inaugural gowns of their own creations, and I had so much fun looking through all the designs.  You all are obviously a very talented and beautiful and handsome group of people.  And I am so pleased to be able to share this special day with you.  You make us proud.  And thank you for the gifts.
And, finally, I also want to thank all the board members, the staff, the supporters of these museums, all of you, for the work that you do every day, and for being here and sharing this moment with me, as well.
So, here we are.  It’s the dress.  (Laughter.)  And I have to say, to be honest, I am very honored and very humbled, but I have to say that I’m also a little embarrassed by all the fuss being made over my dress.  Like many of you, I’m not used to people wanting to put things I’ve worn on display.  (Laughter.)  So, all of this is a little odd, so forgive me.
But, at the same time, I truly recognize the significance of this day.  This gown -- and all of the items that we’ll see in this wonderful exhibit -- help us connect with a moment in history in a very real way.
When we look at the gown that Jackie Kennedy wore 50 years ago, or the one that Mary Todd Lincoln wore more than a hundred years before that, it really takes us beyond the history books and the photographs, and it helps us understand that history is really made by real live people.
The detail of each gown -- the fabric, the cut, the color -- tells us something much more about each single First Lady.  It’s a visual reminder that we each come from such different backgrounds, from different generations, and from different walks of life.
Each gown places us right in the moment and makes us wonder about the intimate details of that evening, like how did she feel in the dress?   Did her feet hurt in those shoes?  (Laughter.)  How many times did her husband step on that train?  (Laughter.)  But, more importantly, these gowns and this exhibit uniquely define a moment in our American history.
When I look at my gown -- which I, in fact, have not seen since the day that I took it off -- memories of that moment truly come rushing back.  I remember that it was freezing cold in Washington.  I know we all remember that.  Yet, despite the frigid temperatures, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the Mall.  Nothing was going to stop them from being part of history.
That day was so hectic for us.  And I remember the inaugural parade and how the President and I stood and we waved until every last band walked by.
Then we only had less than an hour -- ladies, if you can believe that -- (laughter) -- all of my friends left us in the stands, by the way.  (Laughter.)  “See ya, good luck!”  (Laughter.)  I was like, “Yeah, thanks.”  (Laughter.)  “We have to get ready for the ball.”  (Laughter.)  Like, “Yeah, so do I.”  (Laughter.)  So at the time I wasn’t really focused on what I was wearing that evening -– I was really just trying to stay warm.
But I’ll never forget the moment that I slipped on this beautiful gown.  I remember how just luscious I felt as the President and I were announced onto the stage for the first of many dances.  And I’ll cherish that moment for the rest of my life.
And now that the crowds are gone, and the Mall is silent, and our family has settled into our new home, the White house, this gown is one of the most tangible things I have left to remember that day.  And that’s why it will always hold a special place in my heart.
And today, when I look at the dress, I remember all of the incredible people that we met along our journey and on that day, and how warmly -- welcome they received us.
I remember the joy on the faces of so many young people who devoted so much time to getting us to that point.
I remember the wonderful letters we received from folks who were there and others who watched the event from home; people who told us about how much that day meant for them and their families -- letters from octogenarians who told us how they never thought they’d live to see the day.
I remember all the men and women who worked so hard and so long to make sure that every single detail was just perfect.
And I remember the time we shared with Americans from every corner of this nation.
And one of the people who made that day possible is the creator of this beautiful gown, Jason Wu, a young man who, not so long ago, was just an aspiring designer like many of you students here.  When Jason was just five years old, growing up in Taiwan, his parents would take him to the bridal shops so that he could sketch the gowns in the windows.  He started making clothes for dolls when he was 16, and after studying under some of the best designers in the world, he opened his own shop four years ago with the money he had saved.
And Jason’s dress, as you can see -- this gown is a masterpiece.  It is simple, it’s elegant, and it comes from this brilliant young mind, someone who is living the American Dream.
The countless hours that you can see that he spent sewing this piece made my night even more special, and now I am proud that millions of visitors will be able to see just how talented this young man is.
Thank you, Jason.  Thank you for your vision and for your hard work, because, in the end of the day, today is about much more than this gown.  It’s also about how, with enough focus and with enough determination, someone in this room could be the next Jason Wu.  Someone in this room could be the next Barack Obama.  It’s about how the American story is written by real people -- not just names on a page.  And it’s about how something you create today -- whether it’s a dress, or a painting, or a story or a song -- can help teach the next generation in a way that nothing else can.
Thank you all so much.  (Applause.)
END                            10:50 A.M. EST