Each designer guest had a clear connection to the evening’s proceedings. Lauren designed the green sequined wrap dress Thursday evening that first lady Jill Biden wore to her granddaughter Naomi Biden’s wedding dress to the White House last November. Accra is the first lady’s favorite designer. And Chiuri has spent the last two years of her seven-year tenure at Dior highlighting India’s role in global craftsmanship. Chanakya, a Swali family business, has been supplying embroidery to some of the most important luxury fashion houses for a long time. In Paris, where the city’s craftsmanship is as protected as champagne, this is an incredibly controversial place.
This state dinner was low on celebrities, and perhaps designers were invited to provide some star power. But their presence was also a sign that the Biden administration, which has shied away from discussions of style, is thinking big about fashion. It’s less about who’s wearing it – the first lady, her husband, her guests – and less about what those clothes and their makers are wearing.
Washington is not a fashionable city, per se; Asking elected officials what they wear often elicits a laugh or an eye roll. There is an established uniform, or at least a dress code with strict parameters from which few dare to deviate.
Perhaps because the city is driven by purpose, clothes can seem like silly talk. But this is a recent development. Why, then, are both the charms and personal style of the Kennedy administration still so beloved by Democrats and Republicans alike?
The idea that fashion—whether wearing it, enjoying it, or thinking about it—should be a source of shame is a strange and contemporary invention.
Worrying about what the Obamas are doing with brands from Versace to Jason Wu has made Americans feel good, too. Melania Trump, on the other hand, has a passion for fashion, so it’s likely that the public would be happy to take any emotion at all.
It’s hard to say whether the Biden administration is building a more formal bridge with the fashion industry. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.) Designer Gabriela Hearst and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour attended Bidens first state dinner for France in late 2022. And Lauren DC’s credentials are beyond ridiculous. In April, he opened a cancer-research institute at Georgetown (a continuation of a relationship that began in the late 1980s, when Lauren co-founded the Nina Hyde Breast Cancer Research Center with The Washington Post). Publisher Kathryn Graham; Hyde was the paper’s former fashion editor).
Lauren and Chiuri’s own fashion choices were interesting, if only because they broke out of the bubble where sartorial eccentricities were seen as signs of genius and into the fire of Beltway-style criticism. Lauren wore a double-breasted tuxedo with New Balance sneakers — an outfit recently adopted by lawmakers. Controversial sneaker-bottom dress shoes, maybe they really wanted to hug, although it might take Lauren’s charm to get out. And Chiuri, her hair a light brown instead of her usual white-blonde color, wearing a dress of her own design, if slightly 1950s. Swali wore a black gown with a little silver glitter underneath a black blazer.
They looked more business-like and more sophisticated than the other guests, who appeared to be dressed in saffron yellow and hot pink silk or, in the case of Vice President Harris, a copper dress to compliment the host’s country. Chiuri and Swali’s presence and presence suggest that fashion is not simply a tool of communication and play—how White House style typically discusses it—but a forum for reassessing our biases toward quality and craftsmanship.