Michelle Obama's Inaugural Ball Gown Designed To Convey 'Hope'

Dress was meant to be 'soft, feminine, but powerful,' 26-year-old designer Jason Wu says.

In the months, days and hours leading up to Tuesday night's inaugural festivities, the big question on everyone's mind (you know, besides how our new president will fix the economy and end war) was: Who would Michelle Obama wear to the balls?

Of course, all the big names like Michael Kors, Chanel and Diane von Furstenberg clamored to get the first lady to wear their designs on this historic occasion. Instead, she chose a little known designer, 26-year-old Jason Wu.

"It's soft, feminine, but powerful; I wanted to convey all that in a dress," Wu told The Associated Press of the ivory, one-shouldered dress embellished with Swarovski crystals and fabric petals. "I wanted it to look like a sign of hope."

Wu, who was born in Taiwan and lives in New York, has basically flown under the radar since launching his line in 2006. When Obama wore his raw-silk white dress with hand-embroidered black florets for her interview with Barbara Walters in November, his profile rose considerably. But he still considered himself "a long shot" as the choice for her big night, he told the Wall Street Journal at the time.

"I was home, and I was glued to the TV," he told the "Today" show on Wednesday morning (January 21), explaining that he didn't know she'd wear the gown until he saw her dance at the Neighborhood Ball. "I'm a part of history. Words can't describe how I felt. I was awestruck. I think Michelle is statuesque. She's beautiful. I wanted to design a gown that would highlight her best features. I see her as a powerful, energetic woman. For me, this is pretty surreal."

It is important to note that Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan both wore white gowns to their husbands' inaugural balls and, like the gowns for first ladies before Michelle, this dress will be donated to the Smithsonian.

"I still have so much more work to do," he said of receiving this honor at such a young age, adding a message for the new first lady: "Thank you, and you looked beautiful."

Earlier in the day, Obama had worn a lemongrass yellow dress designed by fellow under-the-radar designer Isabel Toledo. "I didn't want a traditional blue or red," Toledo told the AP. "That color has sunshine in it. I fell in love with it. So did she."

Watch "Be the Change: Live From the Inaugural" online now, and come back Thursday for the full performances from Kanye West, Kid Rock and Fall Out Boy. Stick with us for wall-to-wall coverage of the inauguration and of the scenes in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Kenya.