It was a dress that acknowledged the importance and grandeur of the evening without the weight of stodgy, overwrought formality.
As much as Obama has been a champion of American design — both high and low, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, the wife of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, has taken up the cause of Canadian designers. And for her visit to Washington, they gave her their best.
When she and the prime minister arrived at the North Portico of the White House, she stepped out of their chauffeured black SUV dressed in an ensemble that represented the collaborative efforts of four Canadian designers. From her jewels to her shoes, it was all the work of our creative neighbors to the north who so often do not get a chance to shine in the international spotlight.
The evening gown was, of course, the star. It was created by Lucian Matis, the Romanian-born designer who immigrated to Canada in 1999. It was a floor-length dress with cap sleeves, a simple jewel neckline and a glamorous train in a rich shade of purple with sparkling pink embellishment outlining the bodice.
Matis was also responsible for the red sheath, with its bold brush strokes of fuchsia flowers across the bodice, that Grégoire-Trudeau wore during the morning’s arrival ceremony.
For evening, Grégoire-Trudeau wore shoes crafted by Zvelle, a brand founded by Elle AyoubZadeh, who was born in Iran and moved to Canada in 2007. It was impossible to see them, tucked under that floor-length hemline. But they served a fine cause: a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the Zvelle shoes is donated to the Women’s College Hospital Foundation in Canada.
Her tiny purple clutch is by Ela, whose bags can be found in Club Monaco and her moonstone earrings were crafted by John de Jong, whose JDJ collection was founded some 20 years ago and is based in Toronto.
Grégoire-Trudeau began working on her ode to Canadian fashion talent in December when she and her stylist and friend Jessica Mulroney set about finding both established and rising talents who were up to the task.
Dressing for a state dinner is a fraught affair, even for the wife of the prime minister who has a history of style successes and an appreciation for fashion. It’s stressful, Mulroney says. “Anybody, any woman, if they are being photographed in something wants to look good.”
From the beginning, the plan was not only to focus on homegrown designers for the formal dinner but also for the surrounding events.
“The most important thing is Canadian designers getting the international spotlight,” says Mulroney, daughter-in-law of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney. “There’s so much talent and they don’t get that opportunity. Every outfit leading up to [the dinner] has gotten so much attention.”
Grégoire-Trudeau arrived in Washington Wednesday wearing a cream-colored trouser suit by the designer Duy Nguyen, who is from Montreal. For the Canada 2020 cocktail reception, she chose an simply cut jacket swirling with flowers and butterflies from the spring collection of Ellie Mae Studios.
And, of course, she was in Matis for the arrival ceremony on the South Lawn. Obama opted for a simple sheath in a pine green and black print by Tanya Taylor, a Canadian designer based in New York.
The prime minister and president Barack Obama looked elegant in the their classic tuxedos. And the guests were dressed well and appropriately — the discrete chorus to the main players of the night.
Grégoire-Trudeau and Michelle Obama used the occasion, when all eyes are fixed on their wardrobe, to acknowledge the creativity of an industry that crosses so many boundaries — a global business that speaks in rarified flourishes and down-to-earth simplicity.
They showed a love for the beauty of fashion. But they also used it as a statement of both national pride and international friendship.