By
with contributions from Kristi Ellis
 on March 10, 2016
Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, Michelle Obama and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau

Canadian-born and raised designers won big in the Beltway Thursday with First Lady Michelle Obama wearing Jason Wu and her Canadian counterpart Sophie-Gregoire Trudeau wearing a Lucian Matis purple gown with beading for the White House state dinner in honor of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Having worn Jason Wu gowns for several events with dignitaries including the festivities for her husband’s own inaugural, Obama chose a midnight blue floral jacquard gown with asymmetric draping from the New York-based designer. Earlier in the day she wore a Tanya Taylor custom dress, and Trudeau wore another 3-D-style printed dress from Matis.

Trudeau’s stylist Jessica Mulroney said she wanted to wear only Canadian designers in the U.S. and considers championing Canadian design to be a mission. As for Trudeau’s reaction to all the media hype about her clothes, Mulroney said, “At first, she was definitely surprised that there was that much attention about it. But now she’s spinning it to help Canadian design and retail.”

Amidst the political heavy-hitters at Thursday’s dinner, there was a smattering of guests who are in the business of entertaining – Blake Lively and her “Deadpool” husband Ryan Reynolds, Mike Myers of “Austin Powers,” “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels and “Grey’s Anatomy” actress Sandra Oh. (Save for Lively, the rest are Canadian-born.)

In a phone interview Thursday, Matis discussed helping Trudeau with her Washington wardrobe. Trudeau made it clear that she only wanted to wear items in Washington from his spring collection that are also available online. “It was a very easy process. Usually, for an event like this you would expect someone like Sophie to request a custom piece. But she was really wonderful and said she wanted something from the collection. She selected six, we had a fitting in Toronto to make sure everything fit perfectly and then she took a whole bunch of them to the states,” Matis said Thursday.

In addition to the state dinner gown, Matis designed the pink and red knee-length dress with a 3-D-type print that Trudeau wore earlier in the day to the “Let Girls Learn” event with FLOTUS. “Sophie’s a really smart stylish woman, because from the moment that you show her the styles, she gives you exact reasons why it suits her or it doesn’t suit her,” he said.

Sizing up her style as “sophisticated, chic and playful,” Matis said Trudeau has “very radiant personalty,” which was evident when he and his team were reviewing images from Thursday morning’s appearance. “In every single photograph, she’s smiling or laughing very hard so that really shows her personality. She’s very vibrant and youthful. Every time you think of a politician, you think of someone who is 60-plus. It’s nice to see fresh faces, young faces representing the country,” Matis said.

“Canada is so multicultural and there is such a wealth of talent here, it’s evident that we’ll be working with designers from all different background. Certainly, we will support some really interesting, independent designers who we can hopefully help,” Mulroney said. “Rarely do I found that Canadian designers get to be in the spotlight and they’re so talented. This is really exciting.”

Born in Romania and based in Canada, Matis launched his own label in 2007 and maintains a West 39th Street showroom in New York. He said Mulroney approached him about the Beltway trip six weeks ago. Trudeau wound up taking “a whole bunch” of his designs to the U.S., including four other options for the state dinner – three gowns and one knee-length option, he said.

Matis provided a black deep V-neck with beaded cuffs and pleating on the hip, a dusty blue gown with a poppy flower gown embellished with pearls and accented with pleating, a red bias-cut A-line dress with beading on the top and a cobalt blue short A-line dress with bell sleeves. In Canada, poppy flowers are a symbol of peace and are highlighted in a nationwide campaign not to forget the service of veterans, Matis pointed out.

Trudeau’s off-hours style is decidedly more low-key, Mulroney said. “She’s so casual. She loves a pair of boyfriend jeans and a T-shirt. She’s so down-to-earth and that hasn’t changed.”

Mulroney has more in common with Trudeau than their friendship and working relationship. Each woman has three children of her own and are married to the sons of former Canadian prime ministers. In addition, Ben Mulroney also worked with Sophie Trudeau in her single days when she was an entertainment reporter at CTV’s eTalk, where he is still a reporter. His wife said when out of the public eye, Trudeau is focused on her family. Mulroney said, “Sophie’s such an involved mother as well, so you can understand that she likes any kind of fashion that would work with that lifestyle.”

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