As the true proverbial woman behind the most powerful man on earth, she plays an often undefined role as political ally, emissary, hostess, and, in some cases, arbiter of style.
The First Lady, a part of Showtime's new series, examines three women who lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the years 1933 to 2020, starring Gillian Anderson as the longest-serving first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, as Betty Ford, and Viola Davis as Michelle Obama. Their personal and personal journey is often depicted by their costumes, with the common denominator being their shared admiration of pearls.
The fashion in the series, led by Danish costume designer Signe Sejlund (The Undoing, Bird Box), has a supporting role, portraying not only the period, but the character's viewpoint.
"This job was so difficult," Sejlund said of how she got a chance to tell the story of these incredible women. "[Along with director Susanne Bier, we wanted to do it right," said the author. "It was not a bad idea as my eyes saw this from another perspective. Things I see might be different from those of an American designer."
Sejlund, who has been able to get access to extensive research from the Smithsonian archives and newspaper and magazine publications, analyzed the vast scope of the project, from Roosevelt's dresses and coats in favored colors purple and burgundy to Obama's one-shouldered Jason Wu inauguration gown in white silk and chiffon with handmade organza flowers.
We cover 130 years from the time when we met Eleanor as a child of 8 and conclude in 2020 with Michelle Obama, says the costume designer.
Following a newspaper article about him, Sejlund sought to patronize American designer Albert Capraro, an Oscar de La Renta protege. Ford offered several stunning '70s dresses for Ford, often ordering different versions of the same dress in different colors. According to WWD, Ford had reached out to Capraro after seeing a newspaper article about him. He spoke about his only use of American fabrics.
Ford, a former Martha Graham dancer and department store model who died in 2011 at the age of 93, preferred glam appearances, including the white crepe gown with ostrich feathers around the neck and cuffs she wore at Jordan's King Hussein's state dinner in 1974. It was reimagined as a fashion icon.
"Betty was so sassy and sexy and had the most fun with her wardrobe," Sejlund said. "She had a young tiny body [similar to Pfeiffer] and found styles with a Chinese collar, a wide range of colors, particularly green, orange, yellow, and blue in the 1960s and 1970s," according to Sejlund. Ford also loved gold bangles, earrings, and lots of silk scarves, also made by Welch
When she and her husband moved to Palm Springs, their wardrobe changed. "She becomes more bohemian," says Sejlund, noting that she preferred caftans and dresses with bold patterns.
This article was first published in the April 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.