Tuesday night’s State Dinner for Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife Agnese Landini featured a guest list heavy on fashion, politics, media, finance, the arts — and with a few hairdressers thrown in.
For what may be this administration’s last seated dinner for a foreign dignitary, First Lady Michelle Obama chose to honor her guest’s native country and donned a dress by Versace. FLOTUS chose a floor-length, rose gold chainmail gown designed by Atelier Versace. She also tried out another new look wearing her hair pencil-straight, similar to Donatella Versace’s signature style. Landini also chose a shimmery, strapless gown with black beading designed by Ermanno Scervino, one of her favorite Italian labels.
Earlier in the day for a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn, the First Lady wore a sleeveless chevron chiffon dress and Landini wore a green lace short sleeve Valentino dress. (Renzi’s wife also wore a rose-colored Valentino dress for her arrival in Washington, D.C., on Monday night.)
Giorgio Armani represented Italy’s fashion sector and Naeem Khan, who has suited up Obama in his eveningwear on numerous occasions, was also in attendance. Gap Inc. chief executive officer Art Peck, Johnson & Johnson’s chairman and ceo Alex Gorsky and Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. president and ceo Fabrizio Freda also attended. Gwen Stefani, who had Blake Shelton on her arm, was scheduled as the night’s performer. But they weren’t the only musical act — Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean and James Taylor were also on hand.
In what appears to be a mish-mash of the arts and culture, poet Elizabeth Alexander, actors Roberto Benigni and John Turturro, filmmakers Ken Burns and Paolo Sorrentino, producer Ken Ehrlich and actresses Nicoletta Braschi and Cassidy Horn all were invited. Former racing driver Mario Andretti and Fiat’s chairman John Elkann represented the car world, while the arts guests included MoMA’s Paola Antonelli and architect Charles Ward 3rd. Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld were there, too, as were W magazine’s Giovanna Battaglia and lensman Oscar Engelbert.
The media world was represented by Atlantic Media’s chairman and owner David Bradley, The New York Times’ Mark Landler and Doug Mills, Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos (and his wife Ali Wentworth) and Politico’s Carrie Budoff. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, Tamron Hall and Chuck Todd got the invite. CBS’ Bill Plante made the cut, as did CBS This Morning’s Gayle King with her daughter Kirby Bumpus, a White House staffer.
In fact, a hefty number of East and West Wing employees tucked in to the Mario Batali-prepared seated dinner. The ever-traveling Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power were in the mix. Other business titans included Google’s ceo Sundar Pichai and BlackRock’s chairman and ceo Larry Fink.
A few of the Obamas’ go-to specialists were included — interior designer Michael Smith; event planner Susan Holland; former Secret Service agent Shaun West; hairstylists Yene Damtew and Johnny Wright, and makeup artist Carl Ray (not to be confused with talk show host and chef Rachael Ray, who was also on the guest list). Another chef for the masses, Sandra Lee, attended with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Guests arriving at the state dinner said it was a mixture of nostalgia for all things Italian, anticipation for celebrity chef Mario Batali’s dinner and bittersweet feelings for what was most likely the last formal dinner of the Obama White House.
Jerry Seinfeld, who arrived arm-in-arm with wife Jessica who was draped in Valentino, said he came armed with a few Italian jokes, including “some pizza stuff and a couple of canoli one-liners.”
Asked what his Italian connection was, Seinfeld quipped “We’re Jews but we identify as Italian,” referring to the many trips to Italy he and his wife have taken.
Fashion designer Khan, who has been the go-to designer for Michelle Obama of late, called FLOTUS “the most amazing person as an individual, besides being the first lady.”
“”Her causes are amazing. She’s got the best body. I don’t know when glamour is going to ever be back in the White House,” Khan said. “Think about it, she pushes the American designers which is so wonderful. Our fashion industry today is doing so fantastic and one of the reasons is she has acknowledged us.”
“After Jackie O. there was nobody else that was there. She is classic fashion. I think she’s made American fashion on top stage,” he added..
Asked what he would like to see Obama wear once she leaves the White House, Khan said she should continue wearing what she wore as first lady.
“She’s not one of those who has always been glamorous or casual,” he said. “She’s so balanced.”
Apparently talk show host and chef Rachel Ray wasn’t quite as balanced upon arrival to the White House.
Ray, who has worked with the first lady on her “Let’s Move” initiative, said she tripped coming up the stairs of the White House and had to find scissors to cut a new hem.
Asked who she was wearing, Ray said: “I have no idea but I just ripped it.”
“I think I should only wear sneakers to our events,” she said.
Singer Frank Ocean had already figured out that wardrobe trick. He wore white checkered Vans for his first state dinner.
“First time doing it, probably because it’s my first time here,” he said, grinning.
Chance the Rapper who was dressed in Ralph Lauren “head to toe,” was looking for a little music and dance at the dinner.
He referred to the “recurring dance battle that me and the president have had going on for a few years.”
Asked who was winning the dance-off, the performer said he was “very high in the polls.”
“I’m just a great dancer. I have the fit, the build for it. I take it very seriously,” he said.
Ali Wentworth, wearing a purple J. Mendel dress, said she was attending her first state dinner and called the moment “bittersweet” because it is likely the last for the Obamas.
Asked which designer her husband was wearing, she yelled the question across the room to her spouse, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, who had swept by moments earlier. After failing to give a response, Wentworth told reporters, “Baby Gap, probably.”