As soon as Pope Francis’ four-door Fiat pulled into the White House’s South Portico, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were ready and waiting. The First Couple literally rolled out the red carpet for the pontiff, who has made it known that his own austere style means taking a pass on wearing the customary red leather papal shoes.
With 15,000 Americans, politicos, FOPs and other Washington types cheering on the pope’s arrival on the South Lawn in the September sun, the Obamas beamed with smiles and were well-turned out for the occasion. To offset her husband’s dark suit and solid gray tie, the First Lady wore a midnight blue Monique Lhuillier guipure lace and textured jacquard A-line dress with three-quarter sleeves. She polished off the look with navy Aza pumps by Jimmy Choo.
Reached in Los Angeles Wednesday, Lhuillier said her husband Tom Bugbee first spotted what he thought was her design while watching CNN’s coverage. (He serves as chief executive officer of the company they started in 1996.) Lhuillier said, “He said, ‘That looks very familiar.’ We keep things very under wraps so he didn’t know that I was working on it. We just have a lot going on and I have an ongoing relationship [with the First Lady’s team]. We just finished fashion week and we have a bridal fashion show in two and a half weeks, and our lives and our children’s schedules, so it’s just a lot.”
A variation of a fall runway look, FLOTUS’ American-made dress was customized with the sleeve length and side details. But the Filipino-born designer, who is Catholic, was more taken by the occasion. “When I saw it this morning, it was very impactful. This milestone, Pope Francis’ first visit to this country is very monumental. It was perfect and I think the dress looks beautiful on her and so appropriate and flattering. It really was a wonderful moment for me, having been raised Catholic.”
She and her husband, who was also raised Catholic and whose parents attend mass daily, were quick to e-mail photographs of the First Lady to their parents. “It was very meaningful on a personal level,” Lhuillier said. “We haven’t spoken yet because it is quite early in Los Angeles and my parents live in the Philippines so it’s the middle of the night there.”
But as luck would have it, today marks another milestone for Lhuillier’s mother Amparito. “It’s her birthday so we sent the photograph and said, ‘Happy Birthday,'” Lhuillier said.
Given the thousands of children, who were among those who lined the D.C. streets to catch a glimpse of the pontiff’s motorcade, NBC commentator Maria Shriver wasn’t the only Beltway-er who had sprung her kids from school for the day. While many of the guests at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue opted for business suits or dresses, the pope has been vocal about his nonmaterialistic lifestyle. En route to the U.S. from Cuba, he reportedly laughed while telling reporters of a woman who called him the antipope due to his choice of footwear. His message of spirituality does not fall on deaf ears, considering Pope Francis has 7.25 million followers on Twitter.