What's in a first lady's dress? A lot, says designer

Tue Jan 20, 2009 10:42pm EST
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By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The American dream, the great melting pot, made-in-America, the triumph of small business, happiness and hope -- can a woman's dress really say all that?

Fashion designer Isabel Toledo, who designed the outfit Michelle Obama wore to her husband's inauguration, thinks so.

A Cuban American who lives in New York, Toledo was at work with her seamstresses when her mother-in-law called to tell her America's new first lady had chosen her dress for the big day.

"I didn't know if it was definite (she would wear it,)" Toledo told Reuters in an interview in her Manhattan penthouse studio which looks out over the Empire State Building.

"You never know, and things change, even the weather," she said, still on a high as media besieged her for interviews. "I wasn't sure, but I felt she was going to wear that garment."

Toledo said Michelle Obama has been buying her designs for "maybe 20 years" from a store in Chicago and the two met at a fundraiser in New York a few months ago.

"She won me over, I have to say. She's exceptional, she's open, she's friendly, she really makes you feel at ease," Toledo said in a sprawling studio filled with sculpture by her husband, Ruben, who she says is more famous than she is.

"That was one of the most important things for me to make this garment -- how do I capture that in this garment? That openness that she has," she said.   Continued...

<p>First lady Michelle Obama walks onstage at the Biden Home States Inaugural Ball in Washington, January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed</p>