By  on November 20, 2007

Arnold Scaasi has arrived — in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne is a long way from the White House, but that has not deterred it from staging "First Ladies & Fashion: Featuring the Work of Arnold Scaasi."

The designer was surprised to learn of the exhibit. "They called out of the blue," he said. "They got the whole thing together and then they called me and told me 'We're doing this wonderful thing.'"

Dresses the designer created for Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara and Laura Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton are on display through Feb. 8 at the museum, which is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. Visitors can see Scaasi's work decade-by-decade and he has recorded his encounters with the first ladies for visitors to hear.

The gold brocade dress Scaasi designed for Eisenhower to wear for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 1959 visit to Washington, and a copy of the blue velvet and satin inaugural gown worn by Barbara Bush are among the pieces being shown. Scaasi said he had wanted to use Eisenhower's dress for other exhibitions but was never able to arrange it. The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum lent it for this occasion.

The designer said that Eisenhower's dress was one of the first he had done for her. Scaasi said when he showed Eisenhower the brocade swatch, she asked, "'Don't you think it's too much?' Here, I was this kid and I said, 'No, we have to show them we are a rich, powerful country and you should wear gold.'"

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