Why Did Jill Biden Wear a Royal Blue Sergio Hudson Gown to the White House’s State Dinner for Kenyan President William Ruto?

First Lady Jill Biden’s choice of a Sergio Hudson dress for Thursday night’s state dinner honoring Kenyan president William Ruto and his wife Ruth wasn’t just a vote of confidence for the American designer, but also a nod to domestic manufacturing.

The Los Angeles-based designer, whose notable clients include Vice President Kamala Harris, produces his collection in the U.S. And Thursday night’s big reveal in the White House was not a will-she-or-won’t-she situation for him. During an interview Friday morning, he said, “Normally, when they call a designer for a state dinner, it’s set in stone that you’re the one dressing her.”

More from WWD

Having done a fitting with Biden for the off-the-shoulder column gown in his New York outpost, the designer knew that the plans were in order for the state dinner, which was the first to be held in honor of the leader of an African nation’s visit since 2008. Guests like the actor Sean Penn, the NFL’s commissioner Roger Goodell, Melinda French Gates, “American Pie” musician Don McLean and the NBA’s top brass Adam Silver caught a performance by Brad Paisley.

Thankfully, Biden’s team was specific about her preferred silhouette and colors, which led Hudson to choose a royal blue. He said, “I wanted to do something that was a little bolder than what she normally wears. It’s such a divisive time in politics. Sometimes fashion can give you the lift and the positive energy that you need,” Hudson said. “With the [presidential] election and everything that is going on, everything has become so negative and divisive. I just wanted a great fashion moment and to lift our spirits.”

Hudson added, “I don’t know if that is a heavy thing to say about a dress. But I feel like it was what I could say to lift everybody’s spirits.”

Pleased with the response to the brighter hue of a royal blue, the designer said the dress’ embroidery reflects different shades of blue, depending on the lighting.

Of course, growing up as an American, and an African American, who wanted to be a great American designer, there is no greater honor than to dress the first lady of the United States. That is what all the people whom I have always looked up to have always done.”

While Hudson famously dressed Michelle Obama in a monochromatic burgundy pantsuit for Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration day, Thursday night marked the first time that he had dressed a first lady during her White House years.

The fact that the glittery occasion honored Kenya’s leader was of added significance, but Hudson said his focus was on dressing Biden and the honor that that was. Just as other designers like Gabriela Hearst and Tory Burch have supported previous Democratic campaigns, Hudson “definitely” will be throwing all of his support behind the Biden team with a few things slated to come out in the next few months. “I just think they are doing an amazing job. I want to help keep that going,” Hudson said.

As for what might be needed to bridge the divide in the country, Hudson said, “To be honest, I’m no politician. We all need to listen, to hear truth and to stop hearing propaganda and quite honestly [some of] this divisive coverage.”

Suitably, Hudson was doing a fitting in his Los Angeles studio, when he first saw an image of Biden wearing his gown on a smartphone. There was no celebration afterward. “Sometimes I really have to sit back to take in these types of moments, because we’re always going, going, going. You’re always dressing a celebrity, getting ready for the Met Gala or for fashion week,” he said. “I need to learn to take these moments in because it is an achievement. But there is always a higher ladder to climb so I lose track of that sometimes. I’m very driven so it’s always [a matter of] how can we do more?”

Growing up in South Carolina, his mother’s “fashionista” style, his sister’s modeling and Elsa Klensch’s “House of Style” on CNN sparked Hudson’s interest in fashion. In the early ’90s, Gianni Versace’s bondage collection, the Eddie Murphy movie “Boomerang” and En Vogue’s album “Funky Divas” helped him to define what he wanted to do professionally. Four years into his namesake business, Hudson will unveil his first resort collection — a holiday-driven offering with an emphasis on special occasion pieces — in mid-June.

Best of WWD