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Oscar de la Renta, designer to so many first ladies, still waiting to dress Michelle Obama

Oscar de la Renta watches a preview of his own Fall 2010 collection at Nieman Marcus in D.C. on Thursday. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Photo Gallery: Oscar de la Renta fashions

Oscar de la Renta knows how to dress Washington -- and first ladies. They always arrive in the nation's capital with favorite designers, "but they all end up wearing Oscar," joked Jane Lipton Cafritz, chairman of the Washington National Opera's board of trustees.

Oscar de la Renta with Brooke Astor and Nancy Reagan in 1988. (Ed Bailey/AP)

The legendary American designer brought his Fall 2010 collection to Neiman Marcus Mazza Gallerie Thursday. He has been a favorite of first ladies going all the way back to Betty Ford. He has been the go-to guy for both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush, who picked Oscar at the second inaugural and made headlines in his red, embroidered evening suit at the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors White House reception -- just like three other women at the party.

The big question: When will Michelle Obama don one of his creations?

Hillary Clinton wearing an Oscar ensemble at the 1997 Grammys, where she picked up a trophy for Best Spoken Word recording. (Jeff Christensen/Reuters)

Fresh from Monday's Costume Institute gala at the Met (he arrived with Oprah Winfrey, who was wearing one of his midnight-blue, ruffled ball gowns), the designer came to D.C. to debut his collection, including gowns that may show up at this month's annual Opera Ball. Dressed in an elegant gray suit, de la Renta talked about fashion and Obama, whom he describes as quintessentially modern.

De la Renta caused a pop culture dust-up last year when he gently criticized -- not scathingly, not necessarily unfairly, and just an opinion, mind you -- the first lady's decision to wear a black cardigan with her sleeveless dinner dress to meet Queen Elizabeth II. He subsequently appeared on "The View" to explain after it seemed the first lady's fan club was preparing to storm his Seventh Avenue offices.

Laura Bush in a de la Renta, with her husband and Steven Spielberg, before the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors. (Eric Draper/The White House)

First ladies are "an American phenomenon," he told our colleague Robin Givhan. No other country, he said, obsesses about the spouse of its leader or imbues her with such profound meaning. The only reason the French are particularly interested in Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is because she was a model and girlfriend to rock stars, not because they consider her a symbol of their country.

"This country has always been very different about that," he said. "And it's a learning process. He was elected president. She wasn't. But at the same time, there's an expectation about her that perhaps she was not even ready for."

So far the only de la Renta that the current first lady has worn has been Moises de la Renta, the designer's son. That's in keeping with her tradition of wearing clothes by less-established designers. And that, of course, makes a father proud. But still ...

"I'd love to dress Mrs. Obama," he said.

The designer said he was struck by her style at the Governors Ball in 2009 when she wore a sparkling pewter Peter Soronen gown and Tom Binns necklace. "She looked so fantastic," he says.

Then he laughs. Kinda sorta. "I was dying of jealousy."


Photo Gallery: Oscar de la Renta fashions

By The Reliable Source  |  May 6, 2010; 8:01 PM ET
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He gets on my nerves.

Posted by: Libramom | May 7, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

He wants too much attention. He should be quite and be proud that she worn something by his son. New day new designers.

Posted by: rlj1 | May 7, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

His designs are awfully matronly for someone Michelle Obama's age. Face it, dude, you're old.

Posted by: 7900rmc | May 7, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

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