WASHINGTON (AP) — Stepping out of the background and into the spotlight, Melania Trump dazzled at her first state dinner Tuesday, providing some much-needed sparkle at an event lacking in star power.
After ditching her trademark dark sunglasses for a white skirt suit and hat earlier in the day, the first lady appeared in a Chanel gown to greet President Emmanuel Macron of France and his wife, Brigitte, as they arrived for the first state dinner of Trump’s administration.
It was a big moment in fashion — and public life — for the former model, who has kept a relatively low profile since Trump took office and who is playing hostess at her highest-profile event yet as her husband faces a mounting legal threat from a porn actress who says she was paid to keep quiet about a sexual encounter with Trump, which he denies.
With her first state dinner, Mrs. Trump seemed to be aiming to make a statement. In a nod to France, she wore a black Chantilly lace Chanel haute couture gown, hand-painted with silver and embroidered with crystal and sequins, according to her spokeswoman. Her French counterpart wore Louis Vuitton.
As the Trumps greeted the Macrons, a collection of political and business elite entered the formal dinner, which featured a smaller, more intimate guest list than some of President Barack Obama’s dinners. Among those attending were Vice President Mike Pence, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Apple CEO Tim Cook and two Winter Olympians, who flashed their gold medals on their way into the pre-dinner reception.
Kissinger, 94, caused a little scare when he stumbled while walking past the news media.
Ivanka Trump, a senior White House adviser and the president’s elder daughter, and Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, wowed in designer gowns. But there were no surprise celebrity guests, in contrast with past years.
Asked what she was looking forward to, Linton said: “Everything French!”
In a break with tradition, Trump excluded congressional Democrats and journalists. But some Democrats did make the cut, including Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The White House stressed that Mrs. Trump, who planned her 2005 wedding, had a hand in every detail of what is the social denouement of Macron’s visit. She released a brief video showing her working on the details with her staff, including the menu and the cream-and-gold table settings.
More than 130 guests, seated at round candle-lit tables decorated with bouquets of white flowers, were dining on rack of lamb and nectarine tart served on a mix of china settings from the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. After-dinner entertainment will be courtesy of the Washington National Opera.
Earlier Tuesday, Mrs. Trump wore a stylish belted suit with a broad-brimmed chapeau for her public appearances, including on a brief outing to the National Gallery of Art with Mrs. Macron to view an exhibit of works by French painter Paul Cezanne.
The hat stayed put as she returned to the White House and took her front-row seat in the East Room for the president’s joint news conference with Macron. It bobbed up and down across the bottom of television screens as she entered the room and again as she rose to leave, spawning many a Twitter meme.
The hat was designed by Herve Pierre and the skirt suit was by Michael Kors.
Mrs. Trump’s white outfit Tuesday recalled another high-profile occasion, the president’s first State of the Union address, when the first lady wore a white pantsuit. Trump gave the speech shortly after news broke earlier this year that his personal attorney had paid adult-film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter Trump says didn’t happen.
Inquiring minds wondered what kind of statement the first lady sought to make with her attire.
Mrs. Trump was largely absent from Washington during the first six months of the administration, opting to continue living full time at the family’s Trump Tower penthouse in New York City so their now-12-year-old son, Barron, wouldn’t have to change schools in the middle of the year.
She was rarely seen — and even more rarely heard — during those months, even after she finally moved to Washington last June.
But she seems to be trying to change that, even pushing back publicly against her critics. She recently convened a White House discussion on cyberbullying, an issue she identified as her platform despite her husband’s penchant for belittling and berating his foes on Twitter. She acknowledged that people were skeptical of her commitment to curb cyberbullying but said it would not stop her from doing what she believes is right: helping children and the next generation.
Associated Press writer Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.
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