By and  on January 21, 2009

Any designer with an iota of branding power knew enough to have some sort of presence at Tuesday night’s inaugural balls. From big-name combos such as Vera Wang-Oprah Winfrey and Carolina Herrera-Faith Hill to more obscure ones like little-known Bostonian Michael De Paulo dressing Bahrain Ambassador Houda Ezra Nonoo, everyone seemed to have something to shill. While the branding of the American presidency as a means to victory is one debate best left to political pundits, the fashion crowd clearly has no qualms about self-promotion in the name of democracy.

Michelle Obama no doubt gave Isabel Toledo, Narciso Rodriguez, J. Crew and Maria Cornejo some serious marketing might without any heads-up. Ditto for Jill Biden, who went with off-the-rack finds from Milly, Susana Monaco and Reem Acra during the festivities. But in some cases, it was the celebs who did the asking, as was the case with Winfrey. Maggie Norris, on the other hand, was more than happy to dress her pal Grace Hightower. The designer also provided Fran Drescher with an accessory that would be tough to copy — a water bottle carrier that “The Nanny” actress planned to sling over her shoulder with an insignia touting her cancer foundation.

Diane von Furstenberg, Nanette Lepore and Kai Milla were among the designers who trekked to D.C. to relish in all the festivities. Aside from providing Halle Berry and Angela Bassett with dresses, Milla scored some face time with the First Lady, who said she wanted to check out more of the designer’s collection.

Travel kept Oscar de la Renta away from the Beltway, but a few of his designs made the trip. Aside from long-time fan and friend Hillary Clinton, the designer provided a dark blue embroidered dress with a deep V-back for White House party planner Desirée Rogers. But, like most of the designers campaigning for coverage, de la Renta was in the dark until the very last moment about who would wear what.

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