|  One of Oscar de la|
Renta's models during
his fashion show.
(Photo: Lucian Perkins/TWP)
Mrs. Clinton Picks
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 15, 1997; Page D01
Since just after the November election, Hillary Rodham Clinton has known who would create the ball gown she would wear Monday night for her husband's inaugural galas. Her well-kept secret finally was revealed yesterday. She chose one of Seventh Avenue's biggest stars, designer Oscar de la Renta.
The first lady selected her Inauguration Day wardrobe from the collection that de la Renta presented on his New York runway in November. For the balls, Mrs. Clinton chose from a group of gold embroidered tulle evening dresses. The gowns are notable for their simple bodices -- T-shirt and tank styles -- attached to flowing, slightly form-fitting skirts. The rich color and detailed embroidery provide the drama. The first lady will keep out the January chill with a matching satin cape.
For the president's swearing-in, she plans to wear a wool day suit with a matching melton coat. De la Renta is mostly mum on the ensemble's color, other than to say it's a very feminine shade. Pink, perhaps?
"She wants to have some element of surprise," the designer said yesterday from Paris, where he is working on a couture collection. "Like every other woman, she doesn't want to give up everything about what she's doing. There's no expectancy."
The White House said the first lady will foot the bill for the day's wardrobe, which will be in the thousands of dollars. The first parents won't be releasing advance word on what 16-year-old Chelsea Clinton will wear to either the swearing-in or the galas. The president will not have a tuxedo or suit specially made for the events. He'll simply fling open his closet door and make his choices from what's already hanging inside.
De la Renta, a charming romantic with more than 30 years of experience in the industry, is known for dressing moneyed ladies of the social world. More than anything, de la Renta caters to a woman's desire to look pretty and feminine. (He also happens to have contributed to House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign committee in 1995.)
The first lady has worn de la Renta designs throughout her four years in the White House; most recently, his have been the suits and the evening gowns winning the greatest compliments.
Mrs. Clinton wore the designer's teal suit with a pearl choker for her speech at the Democratic National Convention. She chose a taupe de la Renta suit for the night she stood onstage in Little Rock last year, mesmerized by the election night fireworks that celebrated four more years in the White House. At the White House dinner a year ago for the French president, she wore a black de la Renta evening gown with an illusion bodice. When she welcomed the fashion industry to the White House in praise of its fight against breast cancer, she again chose a de la Renta suit.
The first lady had found her style. The president liked her look. And finally, she had gotten the fashion critics off her back.
"Don't you love the Oscar dress?" mused Polly Allen Mellen, fashion veteran and Allure magazine's creative director. "She's going to sparkle. She's going to look like a president's wife. She's really going to be outstanding, and outstanding she should be. . . . She'll be simply magnificent, like a candle."
"It's basically a T-shirt dress. He'll probably lengthen the sleeves to her elbow. She's a little bit hippy, but Oscar is such a master at fit," Mellen said. "She was wise enough to pick a dress that's a classic shape but isn't classical. It's not overly constructed."
Mostly though, she simply chose a dress she loves. "Like every other woman, she wants to look pretty," de la Renta said.
But more than merely a flattering dress, the first lady's choice seems to reflect a more assured sense of fashion, a greater level of comfort with the fashion industry and a better understanding of the nature and possibilities of Seventh Avenue.
"She now has a lot more confidence in the way she looks. She has moved out of a rather provincial way of dressing," said Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue magazine. "She's showing that a highly educated, articulate woman can also be a style setter."
Tipper Gore is relying on a longtime fashion pal for her Inauguration Day wardrobe: New York-based designer Jennifer George. The designer, who often traveled to Memphis for special appearances, met her through mutual friends from the vice president's home state about four years ago. Since then, Mrs. Gore frequently has worn Jennifer George designs -- to the Democratic National Convention, for instance, and on a visit to Russia.
For the afternoon swearing-in, the second lady plans to wear a blue double-faced wool dress and matching jacket. She'll top them off with a sapphire blue alpaca overcoat.
"For the daytime, when it's so cold and you have to be outside for so long, if you wear anything short of thermal underwear, you're going to be cold," said George by phone from San Francisco, where she is presenting a trunk show. "I wish I could have lined the whole thing in Polartec, but that just wouldn't have been appropriate."
At the inaugural balls, Mrs. Gore is expected to wear George's empire gown with a gold lace bodice encrusted with garnet beads. The skirt is black crepe and cut on the bias.
"Everything came together around this particular lace," George said. "It almost looks like tapestry."
The second lady "looks really good in color. I didn't want to put her in fuchsia or aqua. This really has depth," George said. "And I'm very partial to black for evening."
The garnet velvet opera coat that Mrs. Gore will wear with the dress has a lining embroidered with dates special to her, as well as the names of the 50 states and of Gore family members.
George came of age in the industry during the '80s along with young designers such as Rebecca Moses and Carmelo Pomodoro. "She's one of the bridge designers who outlived the nomenclature," said Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
George is known for her minimalist American sportswear, crisp white blouses and easygoing style.
"There were no constraints set on me," George said. "I didn't want to put her head to toe in this extravagant thing. I'm pretty bare-bones, American style. It's not my nature to get wildly extravagant."
Both Mrs. Gore and Mrs. Clinton "have opened their arms to the industry," Wintour said. "At the beginning, they weren't so aware of fashion and designers and their causes outside of the industry."
Mrs. Clinton's developing relationship with Seventh Avenue has been based not on hemlines but in the fight against breast cancer, support of this major American industry and concern for labor issues.
"She's interested in fashion for what it can do," Herman said. "I think she has seen the future."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
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