Wednesday 16 August 2017

A dress fit for a first lady: young designer Claire is in White House good books

Irish designer tells Barry Egan of her delight at receiving a letter of thanks from Michelle Obama

Kathy McGuinness wearing a Claire O' Connor dress. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kathy McGuinness wearing a Claire O' Connor dress. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kathy McGuinness wearing a Claire O' Connor dress. Photo: Tony Gavin

Last Friday morning, acclaimed young Irish designer Claire O'Connor got a phone call from the Design Centre at Powerscourt Townhouse Centre in Dublin to say that an important looking envelope had arrived for her postmarked: The White House, Washington DC.

Claire's feet barely touched the ground as she raced into town to open the mysterious package. Inside was a warm and generous letter from the first lady to the shy first girl of Irish fashion.

"Dear Claire, thank you so much for your generous gift," Michelle began.

"The beautiful dresses were such a nice gesture, and I hope you know how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness." The letter was signed in Michelle Obama's own hand.

Claire had sent the two dresses to the American embassy in Ballsbridge the week before President Obama and Michelle were due to arrive in Ireland on May 24. There is a serious vetting process both at the US Embassy in Ireland and at Michelle Obama's office at The White House.

This is Claire's second coup from across the Atlantic. Last week, a high-profile fashion shoot involving the current Miss Universe, Jimena Navarette, in Claire's designs was published and the stylists have since sent for more of her dresses. In any event, Claire O'Connor's designs made it all the way to Michelle.

It was a testament to the hard work Claire put in: she had stayed up till dawn three nights in a row to make sure the gunas were as impressive as they possibly could be.

"The first one was a long, silvery, black silk evening dress with a digital print down the skirt," explains Claire. "The second one was a knee-length dress with Swarovski crystal sewn onto the front."

About how many crystals? I ask.

"Jeepers!" she hoots. "A fair few! All I know was I was up till 5am putting them on."

To make matters slightly complicated, Claire didn't have Michelle's size and had to take an educated guess from extensively poring over pictures of her.

"Obviously as regards fashion designers, Michelle is the one person in the world every designer wants to be acknowledged by.

"I'm still shocked by the letter. I didn't even put my address on the package when I sent the dresses in. I thought nothing more of it," Claire told me, adding that, "for somebody so obviously busy and -- well, she is the first lady of America -- to write a letter so real and so human is so special for me. I will cherish it forever"

It says a lot about Claire that she was more impres-sed about what Michelle said about Ireland than the praise for her dresses.

"As our nations confront our own distinct yet interconnected challenges, my faith in a better tomorrow continues to grow stronger. Your generosity and kindness are deeply appreciated, and I wish you all the best," said Mrs Obama.

Sunday Independent

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