Michelle Obama’s gown for the state dinner for President Hu Jintao of China sent out a number of signals.
According to the infamous Oscar De La Renta, the signal was unfavorable. He stated “My understanding is that the visit was to promote American-Chinese trade — American products in China and Chinese products in America. Why do you wear European clothes?” adding, “I’m not talking about my clothes, my business. I’m old, and I don’t need it. But there are a lot of young people, very talented people here who do.”
He is also knocked the outfit Michelle wore to meet Queen Elizabeth, remarking, “You don’t…go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater.”
The red silk organza dress, with a streaky print of black petals, invited the suggestion that the color was chosen in honor of the Chinese leader. Mrs. Obama has worn black and red before — memorably, on the night her husband was elected president.
The full-skirted design of the dress — by Sarah Burton of the London house Alexander McQueen — recalled some of the opulent state dinners of the Reagan era. Made for the McQueen’s 2011 resort collection, the style originally came with short sleeves, which Mrs. Obama evidently had altered to suit her taste. Most of all, her choice had a just enough pomp to signal the importance of this state dinner.
Among the guests at the dinner were the designer Vera Wang, who has family ties to China and also produces some of her clothes there, and Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of American Vogue. Not on the list were designers typically associated with Mrs. Obama, like Jason Wu and Thakoon Panichgul.