By  on April 5, 2005

WASHINGTON — The first photo the National Design Award winners cast their eyes upon inside the White House Friday was of a man’s hands, presumably those of President George W. Bush, holding a baseball. But their honorary patron, Laura Bush, proved she can play ball, too.

While much has been said about the legacy the President stands to leave behind and the orchestration involved in doing so, the First Lady has been cementing her own place in history with less fanfare. Days after her trip to Afghanistan and hours after she and her husband visited a school here to trumpet an antigang and drugs initiative, the First Lady welcomed 80 members of the design community and championed their accomplishments. 

Much to the crowd’s surprise, Bush lingered to mingle with guests. When the East Room fell silent after she stopped to kiss a friend, the First Lady advised with a smile, “OK, everybody keep moving, everybody keep talking.”

Asked to what extent she has helped remind Americans about the importance of fashion and design, Bush, who is the only first lady to attend a runway fashion show, told WWD, “It’s an important business, and it’s a great export business for the United States. It certainly expresses our fabulous ideas and it’s just fun. It’s fun to get to see all the great fashion designs, to meet the designers, to have some pretty clothes and to just shop with my girls.”

But Yves Béhar, the NDA product winner, said the government needs to pay even more attention to design. “In Sweden, in Scandinavia and even in my country of origin, Switzerland, designers are kind of…cultural ambassadors for these countries. There’s no reason why we couldn’t do the same in the U.S. I don’t think design is on the radar at all in the government. I don’t think any administration has paid a whole lot of attention to design. The public and the media are so taken in by design. Somehow, that needs to trickle up. The level of awareness should be there and exist for design and culture today.”

Béhar wasn’t the only one harboring a little ire. Upon entering the White House gates, one guest asked, “Do you see my shirt?” and flashed open her jacket. “It’s Imitation of Christ. Barbed wire. It’s my own little protest.”

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