Giovanna Battaglia: My Visit to President Barack Obama’s White House

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Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

In October, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a state dinner for then Italian prime minister Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife, Agnese Landini. It was the last of the Obamas’ 13 grand state dinners, drawing to a close eight years of elegant entertaining at the White House. W’s intrepid globetrotter Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert was there to capture it all, from the First Lady’s spectacular Versace dress to the glamour of the Vermeil Room and its Jackie O. portrait, and she’s sharing it now, the day after the president’s emotional farewell address in Chicago.

Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

“I was invited to a state dinner at the White House honoring the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi. It was a lifetime-so-far achievement! I chose an Armani Privé dress for the occasion, because for many Americans Giorgio Armani is the most iconic Italian designer. On the way to cocktails, I passed the Vermeil Room—and the famous portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I had to pose in front of it to commemorate the moment.”

Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

“I am so proud to have this program as a memento of the state dinner. Barack Obama had just been elected when I moved to New York—he will always be my president.”

Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

“I wore my vintage Courrèges suit when I was a guest at Buckingham Palace, and yes, I wore it again when my husband, Oscar, and I went to the White House for the welcoming ceremony the morning of the state dinner. Who knew it would come in handy twice?”


“While in Washington, D.C., I checked out the Hirshhorn Museum. How fun is this piece, Woman in E, by the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson? I wanted to hang out and watch the performer go round and round, playing the same guitar 
note over and over again.”

Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

“Staring at the pendulum of this Mark di Suvero sculpture, The Cave, left me in a hypnotic state.”

Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

Also on view at the Hirshhorn was one of my favorite works, Venus of the Rags, by Michelangelo Pistoletto. It’s basically what I look like when I’m editing my closet or packing.”

Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

“Julio Santo Domingo and Nieves Zuberbühler got married on Halloween weekend. So of course, the decor for the celebration—like this head, which reminds me of a Giuseppe Arcimboldo painting—was not exactly typical for a wedding.”


“When my good friend Pietro Quaglia opened an all-pink restaurant, Pietro Nolita, in downtown Manhattan, he had these T-shirts made.”

Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

Brian Atwood shoes.

Courtesy of Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert

“What do you wear to a black-tie Halloween wedding? I went as Cher from the 1986 Oscars, and Oscar was my statuette.”