THE FASHION at Wednesday’s inauguration put American designers front and center, including several emerging American designers—who particularly stand to benefit from the attention. President Joe Biden’s Ralph Lauren suit got respectful reviews, but outfits designed by Sergio Hudson and Alexandra O’Neill, names far less widely known, were singled out for special praise. This level of exposure can make a huge difference, said
the Chicago retailer who gravitated to the work of many undersung designers when helping style Michelle Obama during the Obama administration. “These are unknown designers that are being worn by people in the limelight,” she pointed out, “and that combination…makes an impact on a lot of levels.”
Chief among them, sales. Batsheva Hay, who designed the high-necked burgundy dress worn by Ella Emhoff—the stepdaughter of Vice President
—said her e-commerce transactions started reaching record highs after the inauguration: “Compared to a regular day, I did at least five times as many sales on my website.” Ms. Hay is seeing unprecedented levels of interest manifest in other ways, too. A photo she posted on Instagram of Ms. Emhoff in her dress garnered more than 12,000 likes, thousands more than her typical posts.
Online interest also spiked for the family team behind the ornate, bird-adorned ring worn by poet Amanda Gorman. “We had the most people we’ve ever had on our website yesterday,” said Octavia Giovannini-Torelli, who runs the jewelry line Of Rare Origin with her mother and sister. “We’re responding to every single client who has reached out.” Since Wednesday, their website has featured a banner that reads: “We’re honored (and freaking out) to have a birds-eye-view at this historic Inauguration.”
Sergio Hudson, the Los Angeles-based designer who created the plum outfit that Michelle Obama wore at Wednesday’s inauguration and the black cocktail dress that Vice President Harris wore that evening, said his Instagram following multiplied from around 50,000 to over 130,000 in the hours following the inauguration. He says he’s barely had a chance to check sales and web traffic between all the interviews that have resulted.
The increased attention is especially welcome after a year that, thanks to the pandemic’s impact, ranks as one of the fashion business’s worst. “It means validity in the industry at a time where I feel like the industry is struggling,” Mr. Hudson said. “The past year has been scary. You’ve wanted to be a designer your entire life and then in one year you’re like, watching the whole industry collapse….This shows people still believe in fashion.”
Though lesser-known, many of the labels that contributed most conspicuously to the inauguration, in all its jewel-toned monochrome glory, have been on the scene for years. Here’s an introduction to some of the standout brands.
Ella Emhoff’s Prairie Dress
Batsheva Hay’s signature prairie dresses have developed a small cult following. Her eponymous brand’s clothing often features high necklines, frilled cuffs and ultra-feminine prints that range from floral to leopard. A former lawyer, Ms. Hay started the line in 2016. Her designs have a Victorian-meets-bohemian look that’s fueled her arty-downtown reputation, and earned her a loyal social-media following and “cool girl” devotees including comedian Aidy Bryant and food artist Laila Gohar. Notably, her dresses are priced in the $200 to $500 range, significantly lower than most of the inauguration attire.
OF RARE ORIGIN
Amanda Gorman’s Birdcage Ring
The ring Oprah Winfrey gave to poet Amanda Gorman for the ceremony, a tribute to former inaugural poet Maya Angelou, was designed by this New York-based jewelry line.
Designer Leslie Tcheyan operates the brand with her two daughters, Octavia and Thea Giovannini-Torelli. The design that Ms. Gorman wore is an iteration of a piece from the 5-year-old brand’s very first line, the Aviary Collection. Of Rare Origin’s other jewelry, handmade in Italy, is similarly intricate: Think pearl drop earrings with jade-bead detailing and velvet choker necklaces with lapis flowers.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN ROGERS
Kamala Harris’s Purple Coat and Dress
The man behind the vice president’s purple dress and coat, Christopher John Rogers launched his eponymous womenswear line just after his college graduation in 2016. Michelle Obama is also a fan of the New York-based designer, whose bright, fanciful, voluminous designs won him the CFDA’s American Emerging Designer of the Year award last September. Mr. Rogers, who is known for his commitment to strong colors, sketched his most recent collection with a box of crayons. His e-commerce site, featuring vivid dresses and gemstone-studded separates, just launched last fall.
Michelle Obama’s Burgundy Ensemble
Sergio Hudson, the designer of the three-piece set Michelle Obama wore to Wednesday’s ceremony, had previously flown under the radar for the most part despite dressing celebrities from Tracee Ellis Ross to Amal Clooney. Born in South Carolina, the L.A.-based designer started creating custom clothing in 2005 and launched his first ready-to-wear line in 2014. His eponymous label’s trademarks include precise tailoring, seductive silhouettes and pops of bright color inspired by designers like Gianni Versace.
Jill Biden’s Teal Coat and Dress
Alexandra O’Neill, 34, launched her brand Markarian (named for a group of galaxies) in 2017. Her designs tend to skew romantic, often relying on bridal-white fabrics and lace trims. The outfit she designed for the first lady was produced in New York City’s Garment District, like the rest of Markarian’s clothing—but Ms. O’Neill hand-finished this one herself in her Greenwich Village apartment.
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