By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 5, 1997; Page F01
DESIGNERS ARE ETERNAL 0PTIMISTS
When The Washington Post asked some of the most influential designers in New York and Europe to sketch their visions of the Clinton family all dressed up for the inaugural parties, a curious thing happened. Bill Clinton, as drawn by the designers, lost about 30 pounds. Hillary Rodham Clinton's legs lengthened by at least six inches. Politicians were transformed into much more stylish, progressive dressers.
The Post also asked the designers to consider Chelsea Clinton. At 16, she is not only old enough to go to the balls but mature enough to make a few style decisions of her own. The designers who turned their pens to her wardrobe took advantage of her youthful figure by suggesting form-fitting silhouettes. But they were responsible, too. Their choices for Chelsea were always just right for her age. She never looked like a little girl playing dress-up. They also kept her from looking too childlike by piling her curly locks high on her head with just a few stray wisps brushing her face.
The suggestions also revealed a lot about the fashion industry and its relationship with the first lady. The designers showed that they understand her position. They recognize that she cannot wear cutting-edge clothes. Mostly, they took into account that, like a lot of women, the first lady has figure flaws. Rather than offer pure fantasy, the fashion gurus rose to the challenge of suggesting truly flattering, appropriate and stylish options.
There is no word yet from the White House on who will have the honor of dressing the first lady on the night of Jan. 20. The ideas here show it can be done with panache.
Although the inaugural gown traditionally becomes part of history, installed in the first ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian, the ensemble rarely resonates in fashion circles. But for a single day, it is the world's most scrutinized, analyzed and photographed dress. The designer whose work can bear such attention successfully is a rare talent indeed.
If Milanese designer Giorgio Armani ruled the world, bad taste would be a felony. For pre-inaugural-ball cocktails, Armani suggests the first lady try a printed shirt jacket over floral print pants. (Mrs. Clinton, pants. Please, just think about them.) At the balls, Chelsea Clinton would wear a sleeveless blue tulle dress embroidered with paillettes. Her dad would keep things simple with a one-button tuxedo.
It's out: Oscar de la Renta gets to do more than sketch; he designed Mrs. Clinton's gown for this year's balls.
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