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Fashion Capital

Washington gets a makeover.

11:00 PM, Jan 22, 2009 • By SAMANTHA SAULT
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WASHINGTONIANS EXPECT THE ROAD closures and Metro delays, the stuffy black-tie galas and VIP sightings, and the patriotic decorations and memorabilia on every street corner. This inauguration was different. When Barack Obama was sworn-in on Tuesday the nation's capital was suddenly turned into a center for fashion and celebrity, and for once, Washington was considered "cool." All fashionable eyes focused on the city of pantsuits and photo-ID badges -- and nearly all of Hollywood was in town for the festivities.

The fashion industry caught inauguration fever, bad. Top designers like Donna Karan and Zac Posen designed commemorative T-shirts, tote bags, and other souvenirs at designer prices. Fashion royalty like Diane von Furstenberg and Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley were reportedly in town for the festivities (von Furstenberg schmoozed with reporters at Maureen Dowd's posh party in Georgetown). Fashion publications like Vogue, Glamour, and Women's Wear Daily covered the style of both the visiting celebrities and average Washingtonians.

While Barack Obama looked dapper in his Hart Schaffner Marx suit during the swearing-in ceremony, the fashion industry's star was his wife Michelle. Sure, she's had her hits, like the candy-colored Maria Pinto sheath dresses she wore on the campaign trail. And she does know how to mix and match high fashion ($1,000+ Thakoon dresses, an Azzedine Alaia belt) with off-the-rack items (J. Crew cardigans, White House Black Market dress). But she's had her misses too -- the red and black Narciso Rodriguez dress she wore on Election Night springs to mind, and she received mixed reviews of her "lemongrass" inauguration day outfit and ivory chiffon gown. Nonetheless, she's already been dubbed a fashion icon.

"I love the fact that change is coming in all different directions, and I think it's wonderful that Michelle Obama has become a fashion icon on her own," designer Nick Verreos told me. Verreos, an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in California (FIDM) and a contestant on season two of Project Runway, hosted the California State Society and FIDM's third Presidential Inaugural Luncheon and Fashion Show at the Ritz-Carlton. California visitors and politicians joined Washington's most fashionable for cocktails, a hearty lunch, and a fashion show featuring Verreos's collection of inaugural gowns inspired by First Ladies past and present. Though the stunning dresses were inspired by First Ladies ranging from Martha Washington to Laura Bush -- and of course, Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama -- the buzz was all Michelle.

"Mrs. Obama is going to be a fashion icon," said Inga Guen, a Washingtonian who owns an upscale secondhand boutique and comments on fashion for D.C.'s Fox 5. "She is going to do something for the fashion industry. I think it's suffered a little bit in the past three or four years, and she's going to elevate it." Norine Fuller, the event's chair and executive director of FIDM, agreed: "She's not afraid to experiment a little bit with different colors, and I think she's going to be an inspiration for women all over the world." Perhaps the best thing President Obama can do for the economy, then, is to buy his wife some new clothes and watch American women clamor to copy her style and help declining retail sales.

If the hype over Mrs. Obama's inauguration outfits wasn't enough for the fashion reporters and followers, plenty -- perhaps hundreds -- of celebrities came to town and paraded couture gowns and tuxedos on red (or blue) carpets across the city. Aside from attending the inauguration ceremony, these VIPs attended events like the Creative Coalition's Inaugural Ball, with a Pepsi "blue" carpet and ticket prices upwards of $5,000 per person, mingled in VIP sections of nightclubs to see rap stars like Jay-Z perform, and scored the coveted tickets to the Neighborhood Ball, where Beyonce serenaded the First Couple with "At Last."