Just as things were winding down before Christmas, Derek Lam got a call from  Laura Bush’s office. The First Lady wanted to drop by Lam’s showroom with her 23-year-old twin daughters to meet the designer and pick an inaugural outfit for Barbara, who had seen his work on Style.com and in Vogue.

“I wasn’t sure we could make it fast enough to do it justice,” Lam said, recalling his initial reaction to the White House phone call. “I thought, regardless of what my politics are, it would be impolite to anybody who expresses interest in my work to say, ‘I won’t try.’ My biggest concern was that she was warm enough…making sure she didn’t have any wardrobe malfunctions during the inauguration.”

At the inauguration, Barbara Bush wore Lam’s pale yellow tie-neck blouse with an ivory wool bias-seamed skirt, and pale blue double-faced cashmere trench. The designer said Bush’s inaugural choice has given a boost to his list of retail appointments during fashion week, and it has garnered him much press, particularly from news outlets abroad.

The timing couldn’t be better. Lam’s fall collection, to be presented at the Milk Studios on Friday, will be his fifth, and one that marks a new chapter in the 38-year-old designer’s career. Lam, who sells to stores such as Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, just signed a distribution deal with Milan-based L.A. Distribuzione with hopes to build his collection in markets like Germany, Italy, France, Japan and other parts of Asia. He also has plans to launch a capsule handbag collection for resort.

“We realized Derek is not just designing for an American customer but a global customer,” Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann, the company’s chief executive officer and Lam’s companion, said. “We had interest from European and Asian stores. To service them better, we thought it was necessary to have a presence in Europe and a second sample line.”

A Chinese-American who speaks fluent Mandarin, Lam has particular potential in China, which so far hasn’t produced an internationally acclaimed cadre of homegrown designers. Lam grew up in San Francisco and moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design. He worked at Michael Kors’ signature and bridge collections for a total of eight years, and had a two-year stint in Hong Kong at moderately priced  retail chain G2000.

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