First Lady in Red: Jason Wu Designs Michelle Obama's Inaugural Ball Gown...Again

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Most 30-year-old fashion designers would be popping open a bottle of champagne if they just found out the first lady chose their dress for the inaugural ball. But Jason Wu's already been there, done that. The New York-based designer is responsible for the ruby chiffon and velvet inaugural gown everyone's talking about. That diamond-clenched  keyhole neckline was made for someone with Michelle Obama arms. Wu should know. Four years ago, he designed another shoulder-baring gown in cream for the  first lady's inaugural debut.

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Still, Wu was pretty thrilled to learn his dress was chosen for a second time Monday night.

"I can't believe it. It's crazy,"  Wu told the Associated Press by phone from his Manhattan studio on Monday night. "To have done it once was already the experience of my life. To have a second time is tremendous."

Since multiple designers submit fashion options to the first lady in advance of the ball, Wu most likely learned his dress was chosen around the same time as the rest of the world.  #InShock he tweeted minutes after the first couple's first dance. (A few hours before that, he tweeted a book about cat urination, so we believe him.)

Wu wasn't the only one in shock from the news. CNN's Alina Cho nearly collapsed at the confirmation from Wu's reps, which she got over cell phone while live on air. "I am shocked," said the shaken style correspondent. "This is remarkable that four years later she would choose Jason Wu again."

 (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)Not so remarkable when you consider Michelle's style strategy. She's a loyalist, known as much for her fashion risk-taking as for her dedication to a select group of designers. When Michelle chose Wu the first time around, she rocked the foundation of Washington fashion politics, opting for a little-known, avant-garde designer over a veteran couturier like Oscar De La Renta. Four years later, we know our Michelle. She makes her own rules and they're usually right on the money.

Michelle Obama in Jason Wu at the 2009 inaugural ball. (Getty Images)
"I think we'll hear a lot of people saying they wish she gave the exposure to someone who was less established, but her choice just shows she's in control," Fashionista's Leah Chernikoff tells Yahoo! Shine. "She wears what she likes."

Other people like it too. "Would it be ok if Michelle Obama's dress didn't go to National Archives, and went to my closet instead?" Lauren Maloney, a local news anchor tweeted. More ebullient Twitter complimenters threw out terms like: "Elegant" "Stunning" "Absolutely fabulous."

Elle's Joe Zee was a little more subdued in his praise. "I think the color was the biggest thing for me," Zee told CNN. "It's a sign of optimism."

Things are certainly looking up for Wu, whose spent the last four years riding an escalator to success in the aftermath of his 2009 inaugural gown debut. He's since launched a Target line and collected an endless roster of celebrity fans. What more could a young designer (who only a few hours ago was tweeting about cats) ask for? Bigger business, which according to Glamour's style editor, is likely what he'll get.

It wasn't just a big day for Wu. The first lady paired her red gown with Jimmy Choo heels and a handmade diamond ring by Kimberly McDonald. McDonald also collaborated with Wu to created the key-hole diamond embellished neckline on the first lady's gown. Earlier in the day, Michelle called on two other creative style forces for her first inaugural look. She wore a navy Thom Browne jacquard coat and dress cinched with an embellished J. Crew belt. 

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"It's one of those moments when I just can't believe that happened," Browne told the New York Times' Eric Wilson. Known primarily for his suits, Browne was named GQ's Designer of the Year in the fall 2008, the same year as Obama's historical election to the presidency. He took his inspiration for the custom design the first lady wore during the daytime ceremony from the fabric of men's silk ties.

 Was it a nod to Obama's famed collection of "power ties"? There's more to it than that. The first lady has been a fan of Browne's dress collections in recent months. She wore a custom gray dress with a black lace overlay in October, during the Democratic National Convention.

The decision to wear Browne was a win for Michelle on Monday, at least according to Twitter critics.

@FLOTUS SO CHIC in her #ThomBrowne navy coat," Elle's Joe Zee tweeted. Sandra Bernhard called the coat "forward and brilliant."  Supermodel Lily Aldridge tweeted simply, "gorgeous." And designer Christian Siriano proclaimed the first lady a fashion "legend."


Browne can't take all the credit. Mrs. O also called on her own famously high-low fashion sensibilities, pairing her navy look with a belt and port-colored gloves from J. Crew.

The First Lady has made the mass market brand an unofficial designer for the first family over the past four years. Colorful J.Crew coats and gloves kept Sasha and Malia Obama warm during their dad's swearing-in ceremony in 2009.  On Monday, Malia kept the tradition going, dressed in a purple J.Crew wool coat. Her sister Sasha broke the trend with a lavender Kate Spade coat and dress. It was parent-approved teen fashion at its coolest.

Michelle Obama in a Thome Browne coat and J.Crew belt. The boots are Reed Krakoff. (Getty Images)

But in the days leading up to the inaugural events, all eyes were on the First Lady, a style arbiter if there ever was one.

Of course, this year her dresses are trumped by an even bigger style decision in recent days: those bangs. On Sunday Barack Obama referred to his wife's haircut as "the most significant event of this weekend." That was before Michelle's now viral eye roll at the post-inaugural luncheon. Some looks you just can't plan. 


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