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National Design Winners Feted in D.C.

First Lady Laura Bush lauded the accomplishments of designers Wednesday at a White House luncheon for the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award winners and nominees.

WASHINGTON — First Lady Laura Bush lauded the accomplishments of designers Wednesday at a White House luncheon for the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award winners and nominees.

This story first appeared in the July 19, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Bush, wearing a Carolina Herrera black belted pantsuit with white contrast stitching, told the crowd of architects, industrial designers, product designers and landscape architects: “Your union of form and function has changed the way we peel potatoes, write our names and brush our teeth. Your designs have made it more fun to go back in time by playing oldies on our iPods — and then to go really far back in time by doctoring our old personal photos with Photoshop.”

Some guests, including Lifetime Achievement award winner Antoine Predock, Design Mind winners Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi and Special Jury Commendation winner Frank Ching swapped autographs on each other’s programs.

Because of scheduling conflicts, fashion award winner Rick Owens, and runners-up Phillip Lim and Narciso Rodriguez were absent. Severe rainstorms left brothers Michael and Stephen Maharam, whose family’s 105-year-old textiles company, Maharam, is this year’s Design Patron award winner, stranded at LaGuardia Airport in New York. But juror Yeohlee Teng was happy to represent the Seventh Avenue crowd and “to help elevate design” — in its many disciplines. Target once again sponsored the awards.

The White House was the ideal location for the gathering since its “iconic architecture” was the result of a design competition with a $500 advertised prize. To illustrate how expansive design can be, the First Lady quoted Coco Chanel, who said: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion has to do with ideas and the way we live.”

Later, when asked if there are plans to promote American design on a worldwide level, Bush told WWD that U.S. artists have their work showcased in the nation’s embassies abroad through the Art in Embassies program. The art serves as a form of public diplomacy, she said.

“Just yesterday I had breakfast with the mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti. Of course, Milan takes great pride in its design. It is a way to bring people together. I’ll think about ways that we can.”

She urged guests to pay attention to school architecture, landscape design, to create sustainable schools and preserve historic ones.

Architect and juror Michael Gabellini said of the First Lady: “She really has been a valuable resource in terms of just speaking of how design affects our everyday lives.”

Gabellini said he is developing a new retail design concept for Vera Wang, who plans to open stores in New York and Los Angeles. He also is designing a store for Ports 1961 that is expected to bow this fall on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and another in a historic townhouse in the Meatpacking District next year. For the Westfield Group, Gabellini is creating two luxury centers with the first — a 100,000-square-foot space attached to a shopping mall — set to open in Nottingham, England, next year with Louis Vuitton as a retail anchor.

He wasn’t alone in anticipating what is new. Communications Design award winner Chip Kidd’s second novel, “The Learners,” is due out in February, Office dA partner Monica Ponce de Leon, Architecture Design winner, is featured in the August issue of Elle, and even Predock is on to the next thing. “This is an acknowledgement of my peers and that makes me want to try harder, to keep doing it until I drop and to never let up,” he said.