For her last appearance as first lady at the inauguration of Donald Trump on Friday, Michelle Obama wore the designer she started with: Jason Wu.
The designer confirmed to Fashionista that he designed the red tweed, tea-length dress, cinched with a thin black belt and paired with a matching jacket.
Again and again, Michelle Obama has returned to Wu, and his designs helped define her fashion legacy. For her husband’s farewell speech last week, she wore a lace, long-sleeved, below-the-knee Jason Wu number in navy.
And she also wore Jason Wu to an important event eight years earlier — President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Michelle Obama gave Wu his big break when she made her official debut in a white chiffon asymmetrical gown by the designer, who at the time was unknown and just 26 years old.
Michelle Obama shocked the fashion world by picking Jason Wu, but the most shocked of all was Wu himself. According to ABC, “Wu had only three employees and was at home eating pizza with a friend” when he spotted the first lady of the United States on television in his white gown. “I was just elated,” he told Women’s Wear Daily. “It’s hard to describe.” In 2010, the first lady donated the white dress to the Smithsonian Institution.
At just 34 years old, Wu has come a long way since debuting his first ready-to-wear collection in 2007. The Taiwanese-Canadian designer is based in New York, where about 90 percent of his garments are produced, according to his website. “I create clothes for women who are not only fiercely fashionable but also own their power and femininity,” he says on his site. He’s dressed Reese Witherspoon, Julianne Moore, and Kerry Washington, among others. But it’s Michelle Obama who has come to be known as Wu’s most influential and loyal client.
There’s no doubt that the former first lady’s decision to punctuate her tenure by wearing Jason Wu to mark three milestones — two beginnings and Tuesday’s farewell — was, well, by design. Obama has never spoken out about why she chose to champion a young Wu and stay true to him throughout her time in the White House.
Shortly after she assumed her post as first lady, she appeared on the cover of the March issue of Vogue in a sleeveless, high-necked magenta dress by Jason Wu. Then, in April of that year, Obama stepped off Air Force One to attend the G20 Summit in London in a bright pop of chartreuse; it was a Jason Wu number that she wore belted with a long black jacket. She recycled the dress (a first lady recycling fashion!) to visit Capitoline Hill in Rome on July 8 of that year, revealing this time that it had an apple green floral appliqué.
Obama floated down the Cross Hall to the East Room of the White House in 2012 to attend a dinner with members of the U.S. armed forces who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She wore a stunning cobalt blue gown by Jason Wu. And at the 2013 State of the Union address, she wore a burgundy A-line Jason Wu design that she recycled — yet again — at the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony later in the year.
And in March 2016, Obama wore another navy frock by Jason Wu — this time a custom strapless gown with a vibrant floral print — to a White House dinner for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Asymmetrical draping gave the gown an effortless, airy allure. The dress was fun, but it was also sexy.
But it was at the second inaugural ball in 2013 where Obama wore one of Wu’s most daring designs. A nation watched as she took the stage clad in a bright red halter gown, a confection of chiffon with velvet flocking. The first lady in red was a vision to behold, especially when she danced onstage with her husband to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
Michelle Obama’s unconventional choice at the second inauguration was a shock to everyone in the fashion industry — including Wu himself.
Many thought she would wear another young designer, according to ABC, and Wu told Woman’s Day in 2013 that he had no idea Obama would be wearing his creation, “although he did create it specifically for her and submitted the sketches and finished gown to the White House.” Wu told WWD at the time, “Mrs. Obama likes to keep her secrets.”