The day started on the White House lawn under umbrellas, with President Obama welcoming South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and first lady Kim Yoon-ok, and beckoning for more coverage from the autumnal drizzle.
But the night was all dazzle, as Michelle Obama added to her array of stunner gowns; on this occasion, she went for a purple, one-shouldered number by New York designer Doo-Ri Chung, and thus decided to light up the gloomy weather that enveloped first family’s fifth state dinner.
Guests reached the White House around 6 p.m. with wet gutters and puddles for floor-length gowns to avoid. But inside, East Wing planners presented a showcase of fall flavors — for the eyes and taste buds. With the wagyu beef, some roasted squash; with the soup course, a pumpkin-seed praline. And amid the red, orange and green displays on the walls, windows and tabletops, apples came into play.
The event marked the second state dinner overseen by White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard, whose June evening in the Rose Garden, honoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel, featured greens from the first lady’s garden and tunes from James Taylor, who puts the mellow in melody. This time, Janelle Monae was scheduled to sing after the supper and strut her usually tuxedoed, pompadoured self before the crowd. She had a tough act to follow — a food finale that the menu called “Chocolate Malt Devil’s Food Layers with Pear and Almond Brittle,” presided over by Executive Pastry Chef William Yosses.
Guests included frequent fliers at such occasions, including the Bidens and the Pelosis, the latter of whom joined the guests of honor at the hosts’ table. Administration officials such as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and White House press secretary Jay Carney were on the list. The invitations went out to an array of business leaders (Alan Mulally, the Ford chief executive), sports figures (Billie Jean King), media players (CBS’s Scott Pelley, CNN’s Candy Crowley).
The East Wing paid special attention to Korean Americans for inclusion, such as David Chang, a Northern Virginia kid whose Momofuku foodie empire rules New York, and Chang-rae Lee, the Princeton-based novelist, whose recent “The Surrendered,” was a Pulitzer finalist.
The first lady’s gown was not known ahead of time, and Juju Chang, of ABC News, also wore a purple, one-shouldered gown — and wore it well. As she arrived in the press area, she pulled at her tresses, which she wore down and admitted they were somehow rain-hampered. “So much for the hair salon,” she said, moving through the foyer with her husband, Neal Shapiro, who runs a New York PBS station, WNET.
A designer’s designer in the women’s wear field, Chung would be known to viewers of the fashion documentary “Seamless,” which followed finalists for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s prize for fresh talent. She used extra square footage at her parents’ dry-cleaning facility as studio space.