The Low-Down on the First Lady’s State Dinner Gown

By Matt Loffman

May 21, 2010 10:39am

ABC News' Karen Travers reports:

When it came time to select a dress for Wednesday's state dinner, First Lady Michelle Obama turned to a designer whose creations she has worn before.

Peter Soronen, a New York-based designer who has made at least four other dresses for the first lady, created the striking shimmery blue dress that featured a structured corseted bodice, three layers of chiffon and a layer of chiffon lame underneath to give it sparkle.

Soronen declined to say how much the dress cost and said the dress was a “donation” to the First Lady, through Ikram Goldman, her unofficial Chicago-based stylist who commissioned the dress. The First Lady’s office said that some of the dresses worn for big events, like the state dinners, are donated to the National Archives.  In March Mrs. Obama donated the Jason Wu-designed gown she wore to the inaugural balls to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Soronen told ABC News he does not create these gowns with a price in mind. His designs are sold at high-end retailers like Barneys, Bloomingdales and at Goldman’s Chicago store and can run up to $5,000-6000 for a formal gown.

Mrs. Obama fashion flair ranges from pricey clothing and accessories – Jimmy Choo heels and boots and $450 Lanvin sneakers – to modest, when she mixes in lower-cost items from stores like J. Crew.

For an event like a state dinner, when all eyes will be on the first lady, the choice of a dress and designer is no small task. For the first state dinner in honor of the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Obama wore donned a strapless champagne-colored gown made by Indian-born designer Naeem Khan. Former First Lady Laura Bush regularly turned to Oscar de la Renta for her formal gowns.

Soronen said he was first approached by Goldman about a month ago about designer a dress for the dinner. He said the Chicago stylist is familiar with his designs and structure and thus gave him some independence to create the state dinner dress.

“She didn’t give me step-by-step instructions, but she did give me a little color line and she said that it needed to be flowy and long, to the ground,” the designer said.

Ikram also instructed him to make it a one-shoulder dress, a style that Mrs. Obama wore for the inaugural balls in January 2009.

The dress took about two-and-half days to make and Soronen put it together himself. The silver sparkle belt, a signature of Mrs. Obama’s personal style, was an add-on accessory.

This was his fourth formal gown that Soronen has made for Mrs. Obama – he created the black strapless sparkle dress she wore for a dinner for the nation’s governors at the White House in February 2009, the red dress she wore for the Alfalfa Club dinner last January and the purple corseted strapless gown she wore to the Kennedy Center Honors in December.

Soronen said that even though Mrs. Obama has worn his gowns before, it always feels like the first time when he sees her in one of his creations.

“I feel a huge accomplishment to be able to have such exposure to the craft that I do,” he said. “It always feels new.”

Soronen said he has not met her in person and has not done a fitting with her. “I just send a common size and I eyeball a little bit so I do custom it a little bit for her, what I feel her measurements are,” he said. “I think this dress came in pretty close.”

“I have been getting the most amazing reaction, from the color to how it looked on her,” Soronen said. “It looked great and I’ve been really pleased with everything I’m hearing.”

-Karen Travers

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