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Vol. LVII, No. 13
July 1, 2005

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NHLBI Unveils First Ladies Red Dress Collection

On the front page...

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recently brought The Heart Truth campaign's red dress symbol to life at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with the debut of a new exhibit — The First Ladies Red Dress Collection. Unveiled during National Women's Health Week, the historic exhibit featured red gowns, suits and dresses lent by Mrs. Laura Bush and six former First Ladies, who have joined The Heart Truth to raise awareness about women's heart disease. The Red Dress is the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness and the centerpiece of NHLBI's campaign to raise awareness of the number 1 killer of American women.


  First Lady Laura Bush unveils Red Dress Collection.

More than 200 guests attended the unveiling, including NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Jacalyn Leavitt, wife of HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt; Alma Powell, wife of former Secretary of State Colin Powell; Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Karyn Frist, wife of Sen. Bill Frist; Mary Bunning, wife of Sen. Jim Bunning; Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John Dingell; Jan Donaldson, wife of former ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson; and Kathleen Matthews, news anchor for WJLA ABC 7.

Opening the event was NHLBI director Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, who introduced the exhibit video. The video featured a montage of images of each of the First Ladies in red outfits, a clip of Mrs. Bush speaking about heart disease, a selection of facts about heart disease, watercolor paintings and photographs of Washington, D.C., landmarks, and slow motion clips from the Red Dress Collection 2005 Fashion Show.

Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser welcomed participants and expressed the center's pride in joining America's First Ladies and NHLBI in the fight against heart disease with a fashionable exhibit of awareness. Secretary Leavitt spoke of the importance of reaching women with critical messages on how to protect their heart health. "Only 20 percent of American women know that heart disease is the greatest single threat to their lives. So if you haven't done so already, go see your doctor and get an assessment for your risk of heart disease. Take your sister, mother, daughter or friend with you," said Leavitt.

Mrs. Bush, ambassador for The Heart Truth campaign, took the stage to unveil the First Ladies Red Dress Collection. She urged all women to know The Heart Truth — heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women — and to get started on the road to better heart health. "When it comes to heart disease, education and prevention can save lives. This collection is the First Ladies' effort to remind women about heart health," said Bush.

Nancy Reagan (l) shares a light moment with Laura Bush at the unveiling of the First Ladies Red Dress Collection.

For the exhibit, Mrs. Bush provided her red Carolina Herrera suit, which she wore to the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and to The Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection Fashion Show 2005 in New York City.

Joining Mrs. Bush to unveil the exhibit was a special guest — Nancy Reagan. Her love of the color red is well known, and she often wore beautiful red gowns to White House and other noteworthy events during her tenure as First Lady. Reagan donated a red lace Oscar de la Renta evening gown, which she wore when President Reagan was presented with the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II in London in 1989.

The dresses in the collection adorn mannequins in the First Ladies exhibit.

The exhibit also featured red outfits from five other First Ladies. Sen. Hillary Clinton provided a mock turtleneck dress designed by Cliff Chally, worn to one of President Clinton's major speeches to a joint session of Congress in 1993 and that same year on Valentine's Day. Barbara Bush chose a red evening gown with gold floral overlay by designer Arnold Scassi that she wore while hosting a White House state dinner for the president of the Republic of Argentina in 1991. One of her famous strands of pearls was also displayed with the dress.

A double-breasted Lady Bowden suit was worn frequently by Rosalyn Carter during President Carter's days in the White House. Betty Ford provided one of her favorites — a red crepe Neiman Marcus suit that she wore many times during her husband's presidency. Lady Bird Johnson contributed a red evening gown, designed exclusively for her by Mary McFadden to wear at her 80th birthday celebration at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

NHLBI director Dr. Elizabeth Nabel describes The
Heart Truth campaign to guests at the Kennedy
Center event.
HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt urges members of the audience to “take your sister, mother, daughter or friend” to the doctor for a heart disease checkup.

Accompanying the dresses was a photograph of each First Lady wearing the outfit on display and a personally signed letter supporting The Heart Truth. The exhibit also featured 11 designer dresses from the Red Dress Collection 2005.

The First Ladies Red Dress Collection remained on display on the Millennium Stage in the Grand Foyer of the Kennedy Center (which averages approximately 10,000 visitors every day) until the end of May. More information about The Heart Truth and the First Ladies Red Dress Collection can be found at

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