We salute 35 men and women who bring that je ne sais quoi to the ballrooms and boardrooms of Washington.
By Karin Tanabe
“Welcome to Washington, Hollywood for ugly people!” As Washingtonians, we know that the cringe-worthy moniker, while catchy for outsiders, has never applied to the inhabitants of our city. But during the era of Lady Bird yellow, Jimmy Carter casuals, Hillary Clinton headbands, and George W. Bush suits and cowboy boots, it sometimes rang true for our wardrobes. Then all of a sudden our stylish first lady Michelle Obama and her fashion conscious cabinet came to town and Washingtonians weren’t accused of dressing out of the “take me” bin anymore. The world turned their attention to FLOTUS and her love of labels from Azzedine Alaïa, to Isaac Mizrahi, and even shopping mall staple J. Crew.
But those of us who have lived in the city for years know that we weren’t so badly buttoned-up before the Obamas came to town. After all, some Washingtonians have quietly been making fashion splashes for decades, but have simply gone unsung. It’s been since the Reagan era that the fashion spotlight thought to drift below the Mason-Dixon line. Until now.
Come inauguration day 2009 and our city hit the pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Town & Country, not for our politics, scandals, or political scandals, but for the things we dare to wear, and wear well. Our city’s first lady, Michelle Fenty, helped raise the style bar when her husband was elected in 2006. Young, modern, and at times decidedly daring with her wardrobe, you’re more likely to see Fenty in a bandage dress than a Talbots suit. And then came the other Michelle. Americans had a lot to say about her bare legs and flat shoes, her 1950’s inspired skirts, those twinsets and bubblegum pearls. Every outfit she wears makes the blogs and inspires hurrahs from New York fashion royalty. Yes, when those at the helm dress well, the rest of us are inclined to follow.
But of course, in Washington, we like to blaze our own trails. Lobbyist Heather Podesta will happily wear blue tights to a black tie function without batting an eyelash. And why not? Fashion rules were made to be broken, if they are broken well. Just think of Desirée Rogers wearing Commes des Garçons to the now infamous state dinner that ultimately led to her resignation; Rep. Jane Harman looking more Logan Circle than buttoned-up Capitol Hill; and of course, Michelle Obama flashing her bare arms.
Will the style makers in New York continue to pay attention to us after the Obama administration is no longer? It’s hard to say. But for now, this is a chance to herald those who stepped out of the pantsuit and black dress haze of Washington fashion and into something that’s bringing the capital closer and closer to the cutting edge. Are we going to see punk chic, street style, or mini-miniskirts on Capitol Hill anytime soon? Probably not. But that’s just not the nature of our city. We continue in the footsteps of style’s power houses: Deeda Blair, Bunny Mellon, the late Evangeline Bruce and Clare Booth Luce, Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan. Add to them the new crop of D.C. socialites who have sprouted up in recent years and proved well up to the task of keeping Washington out of fashion Siberia, and the city’s come a long way baby. Here is to our first ever fashion awards, bestowed upon the 35 eople we salute for keeping the navy blue pinstripes away and daring to bring a little more flair to a city whose closets just got a lot more interesting.
STYLE IN SESSION: Rep. Jane Harman. A touch of Californian flare makes for an effortless East-meets-West Coast style.
DESIGN STAR: Michelle Fenty. The first lady of Washington, lawyer, and mother of three raised the fashion bar in Washington before the other Michelle arrived.
POLISHED PREPPY: Mary Haft. A stand-out in formal attire, the summertime Nantucket resident also favors a preppy look.
DESIGNER DARLING: Sedi Flügelman. Her international roots are highlighted by gorgeous gowns from top designers
GLOBAL GRACE: Luciana Pedraza wows on the red carpet with subtle yet striking ensembles.
GALA GLAMOUR: Antonia Gore. Feathers, floor-length gowns, and flourishes to match define black-tie style in the capital.
DASHING DIPLOMAT: Ambassador Carolina Barco. Power suits and bold colors add a bit of South American flavor to Embassy Row.
GIRL ABOUT TOWN: Gwen Holliday. Sophisticated yet casual, Holliday's style seems effortless morning, noon, and night.
CLASSIC CHARM: Jim Kimsey. With a wardrobe of impeccably tailored suits, Kimsey sports dark classic colors to fundraisers and fetes.
INTERNATIONAL POLISH: Ambassador Richard Burt. The dapper former ambassador to Germany's style is classic bespoke, usually with a twist.
HIGH NOTE ON THE HILL: Congressman David Timothy Dreier. Continuously voted one of the best-dressed congressmen, Dreier epitomizes California cool on Capitol Hill.
TOP STYLE CHEF: Sam Kass brought the "it" factor to the chef's jacket and is one of the White House's most eligible bachelors.
DASHING DESIGN: James Woodyard wears a blazer and jeans as well as any Hollywood heartthrob.
ELEGANT ACTIVIST: Joe Solmonese. The president of the Human Rights Campaign favors designers Ann Demeulemeester, Billy Reid, and Dolce and Gabbana.
EUROPEAN IMPORT: Count Renault de Viel Castel. Parisian polish makes the aristocratic de Viel Castel a shining style star on the young social firmament.
BOHEMIAN ROYAL: Ambassador of Jordan– Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein. The discreet Prince spruces up suits with elegant extras.
THE MODERN DANDY: Riley Temple. Bowties, pinstripes, signature glasses, and elegant extras define this arts activist attorney.
TAILORED TRADITIONALIST: President Barack Obama. The best-dressed president since Reagan is tailored to perfection in Hartmarx suits.
FASHION HALL OF FAME: Ina Ginsburg. Count on Andy Warhol's old pal to wear vintage haute couture one night and something quite daringly "arty" the next.
SILVER SCREEN STYLE: Susan Pillsbury. This former dancer and social butterfly wears bold, brightly-colored gowns that set her apart from the usual sea of black dresses.
THE REBEL: Heather Podesta never lets tradition smother her astonishing sense of style, wearing creations that are top-to-toe ode to individuality.
INTERNATIONAL ELEGANCE: Aniko Gaal Schott. Flawless combination of couture, big jewelry, and statement pieces.
CREATIVE COCKTAIL: Nini Ferguson. Never fearful of color or patterns, her flair for fashion perks up any special event.
MODERN ROMANTIC: Eden Rafshoon. Careful attention to detail pays off handsomely for this Georgetown style icon.
ALWAYS ELEGANT: Beth Dozoretz. The chairman of last year's Meridian Ball dazzled in gold Reem Acra and always turns heads.
SOUTHERN BELLE: Bonnie McElveen Hunter. Long live glamorous! The American Red Cross chairman brings old Hollywood pizzazz to the city's black-tie soirees.
OUT IN STYLE: Desirée Rogers. The svelte Chicagoan resigned as White House social secretary, but not before making a mark with cutting edge style.
FIRST LADY OF FASHION: First Lady Michelle Obama. Heralded as the "new Jackie O," the first lady has wowed critics- as well as the masses- with chic, mostly American-designed ensembles.
TRENDSETTER: Jean-Marie Fernandez. A regular on the philanthropy circuit, she dresses with a flair for whatever is fun and modern.
ELEGANT POWER: Sheikha Rima Al-Sabah. A top diplomat hostess who graces the pages of Vogue and W, the glamorous sheika sets a city-wide standard of style.
GRACE AND CHARM: Yoriko Fujisaki. Always chic while staying true to her fashion roots, she pays homage to Japan's rich style history.
PERFECT POISE: Katherine Bradley. A taste for classic gowns, shift dresses, and cardigans makes Bradley an exemplar of upscale Washington elegance.
POLISHED POLITICO: Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A high-powered job compels Madamae Speaker to dress to impress in Armani pantsuits and powerful pearls.