Our clothes are more than fabric on our bodies. What we wear becomes part of our lives in an emotional way. We all have a moment in time that’s marked by what we were wearing: our first job interview, first kiss, first bad haircut … Welcome to “What I Wore When,” a series that asks our favorite women what they were wearing during a memorable moment in her life. Today's account: When designer Tanya Taylor met Michelle Obama.
In October 2015, when my brand had been in business for just two years, I was invited to attend the Celebration of Design hosted by Michelle Obama at the White House. Mrs. Obama had worn designs of mine a handful of times before (the first she bought straight off the rack) so I was aware that I was a blip on her very vast radar, but I never imagined I would be invited to the White House so early on in my career.
I thought about how I wanted to look when I would meet Michelle Obama for the first time. I wanted to look feminine, polished, and confident. I immediately began sketching several looks and by the end of the day, I had six sketches for which I felt strongly. As a print and color-based designer, my first inclination was to wear print because it is what I feel most comfortable in. I then quickly realized that Mrs. Obama had several looks we had custom-designed for her in my favorite prints, and I was not going to risk attending an event in the same print as Mrs. Obama.
After much toiling and indecision, I managed to narrow the options down to one; a black and white one-shouldered embroidered lace chintz dress with the pinwheel motif from my spring/summer 2015 collection. It checked all the boxes: feminine, polished, and confident.
When the dress arrived in the office the following week, my team and I fit it meticulously. It was in that moment, fitting the dress with my team of four, that I truly was able to comprehend the significance of being invited to the White House by the First Lady. I felt incredibly honored.
To go with the dress, I designed a white, opaque top-handle box bag, which I worked with Canal Plastics to create, and selected a well-loved pair of black and white heels from Gianvito Rossi. My friends at PaintBox created a black and white tipped manicure for the occasion, giving the look a nod of whimsy.
When the day came to travel to D.C., I took the Acela and felt a mix of nervous anticipation and sheer giddiness. If you had said to me five years ago that I would have the opportunity to go to the White House, and several times at that, I would not have believed you.
After settling into my hotel room, Mrs. Obama’s glam team arrived to do my hair and makeup. They straightened my hair and gave me a smoky-eye–something I wouldn’t normally opt for–but I figured if was good enough for Mrs. Obama, it was good enough for me. They later gave me advice on how to keep my cool while meeting her and regaled me with stories of events past.
After I finished getting dressed, I felt invincible. This look was a departure from what I generally wear – my day-to-day choices are more eclectic–but I felt extraordinary.
When I pulled up to the White House’s East entrance, it felt as though every single famous designer and industry member was already in line for security. In fact, I made my way through the X-ray machine behind Anna Wintour, which made me chuckle because I was in the throes of the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund. Once inside, Diane von Furstenberg complimented me on my look, and it was over mini-burgers at the buffet that I met Eva Chen for the first time.
In true form, Mrs. Obama gave a powerful speech about her role as First Lady and how the fashion industry had overwhelmingly embraced her, an outsider, who came to Washington with a background in law and zero ties to fashion. She said she felt thankful and proud to be in a room full of the industry leaders. I remember thinking that every industry person in the room felt the same way about her. I know I certainly did, and I still do now.
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Looking back, the dress I wore to the White House is emblazoned in my memory along with the joy of the night. I have not worn it since, and instead have kept it in a treasured section of my closet and in my memory. Someday I hope to wear it again, but for now, it rests alongside all my favorite pieces from memories past.