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Fashion Show Updates, First-Lady Style

There’s still no word on what designer gown soon-to-be first lady Michelle Obama will wear to the inaugural balls on Tuesday night, but if it was up to designer Nick Verreos, she’d be a lady in red.

Verreos, perhaps most famous for appearing on the second season of the hit television show “Project Runway,” displayed his Obama-inspired handcrafted gown on Saturday afternoon at a media preview of the California State Society Inaugural Luncheon and Fashion Show. Slated for Sunday at the downtown Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the show also will feature Verreos-created gowns inspired by eight other first ladies, including Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Jacqueline Kennedy and Laura Bush.

But it’s the Obama-inspired, crimson red, strapless floor-length dress that is the highlight of the collection. Verreos picked red, he said, because it goes against the stereotype that only Republicans sport the color.

The gown also has pockets and is highlighted by an asymmetrical gathered side. It is crafted from silk zibeline, essentially silk wool that is a bit warmer than the lighter fabrics typically used in ball gowns.

“When it’s 18 degrees outside, you might need a little bit of warmth,” Verreos said.

Creating a gown for Michelle Obama might be a designer’s dream, but Verreos, who studies political science at the University of California-Los Angeles, found designing for each of the nine first ladies featured in the show thrilling.

When the California State Society asked him to put together a collection based on first ladies, Verreos spent months studying, from reading biographies to spending time at the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit that showcases ball gowns worn by the wives of presidents.

Eventually, he selected the nine women he felt made an impact on both fashion and America as a whole. He said it was especially fun designing for Washington, Lincoln, Dolley Madison and Louisa Adams since he had to imagine what they might have worn if they were first ladies today.

“You have to suspend your belief,” Verreos said. “I sort of had a little more playing room.”

The gowns shown at Sunday afternoon’s fashion show might even show up at inaugural parties Sunday night, since they can be purchased from Verreos’ NIKOLAKI line, with prices ranging from $4,000 to $12,000 (although it might be hard to get fitted so quickly).

More than 750 people are expected to attend the sold-out bash, including 20 Members of Congress. The fashion show actually will be the third the society has hosted during an inauguration, according to society President Linda Ulrich. This time around, it’s being co-sponsored with the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Several other designers will display collections, along with Verreos’ first ladies collection.

Rather than hosting another inaugural ball, the society holds fashion shows to showcase California’s entertainment and fashion industry, which drive so much of the state’s culture. “We just decided there were enough of those, and enough people do those,” she said of the formal balls. “We decided to so something different.”

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