When Michelle Obama came out Monday night in a ruby-colored, floor-length chiffon and velvet gown at the inaugural balls, she wowed. But she also surprised fashion and politics observers who thought she would choose a designer other than Jason Wu.
Four years ago she wore a gown by the then 26-year-old designer, catapulting Wu to celebrity, and some thought she would do the same with a little-known designer this time around. And perhaps she did.
Kimberly McDonald is the Los Angeles-based jewelry designer whose bracelets and earrings — all diamonds — the first lady wore at the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball. McDonald also designed the custom, handmade, diamond-embellished ring that formed the base of the halter neckline of the Wu gown.
Just like Wu, McDonald did not know Mrs. Obama would be wearing her jewels until she walked out on the stage. To calm her nerves while waiting, she took a walk with her dogs.
“I had initially thought we would see her around 8 pm [5 pm in LA], so by 8:30 pm [5:30 in LA] I was getting anxious, so I decided to walk the pups to keep myself busy,” McDonald told ABC News in an e-mail interview. “I mean, this is a big deal, right? So we were on our second lap of our daily route and my business partner Trish sent me an email that just said ‘Yesssss!!!’ – and I knew.”
McDonald said she and her “pups” then “double timed it up the hill.”
(In contrast, Wu was at his downtown studio with 30 members of his staff. Four years ago he was at home, eating pizza with a friend).
“From that point on, my phone was non-stop with texts and emails and of course a call from my mom, who was in tears–you know how moms are!” McDonald wrote.
The instant interest in McDonald’s jewelry made her website crash as the curious scrambled to find out about McDonald and her designs, which Obama has worn before, including a pair of moonstone and diamond drop earrings to her address to the Democratic National Convention in the summer. McDonald said “traffic was over ten times” its usual daily amount.
McDonald, who is originally from North Carolina, said she worked with Wu on the dress embellishment over e-mail and phone, calling him a “dream to work with.”
“His calm and focused energy made for a seamless collaboration. I think he is magical!” she said.
She says she understands Obama has the choice of any “designer in the world to wear,” so it “means so much” that Mrs. Obama — whom she hasn’t met, but would “love to” — stacked on her bracelets and jewels, saying it gives her “a great sense of pride and accomplishment.”
But will it give her the boost it did to Wu four years ago?
“As for how it will affect my career, I am not sure and I have no expectations,” McDonald said. “Fine jewelry is a bit different from fashion and other accessories. I do think/hope that more people will be exposed to my work, which is a great thing. Past that … this wasn’t about anything except dressing the first lady for the inauguration. Anything else is just icing on the best cake ever.”
She said because of the difference in price point — her jewelry ranges from $1,800 to over $100,000 — she doesn’t think “it’s possible” for her, or other fine jewelers, “to have an experience like Jason [Wu] did. That’s his journey.”
As for her own journey? McDonald says she is “looking forward to seeing what my own experience will be!”
One thing that is certain: The custom ring worn on the Wu dress Monday evening will go to the National Archives, not something every jewelry designer can say.