- Associated Press - Thursday, July 22, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama used this year’s luncheon for the National Design Award winners to sing the praises of those who push boundaries — or outright ignore them.

With cool jazz playing in the White House foyer and lobster carpaccio on the East Room tables, the first lady celebrated the award winners Wednesday as “folks whose work has literally changed the way we look at the world and how we live our daily lives.”

Mrs. Obama got a big laugh when she told the luncheon guests: “All of you have spent your lives pushing boundaries — we know a little bit about pushing boundaries — or just outright ignoring them altogether.”

And she got a special kick out of being seated for lunch next to Tim Gunn from “Project Runway.”

“How cool!” she declared.

The award winners included Rodarte, a sister-team of fashion designers whose creations the first lady has worn on several occasions in recent years. But for Wednesday’s luncheon, the first lady chose a hot pink outfit by Isabel Toledo with a V-neck top, drapes of fabric at the waist and loose flowing pants.

The awards are presented by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

Mrs. Obama called the winners “some of our country’s most talented, most visionary, most public-minded designers.”

The winners have been honored at the White House each year since 2000, but Mrs. Obama has changed the dynamic by trying to involve the next generation of creators and innovators. Before the luncheon, design winners and finalists met with more than 400 local high school students at a “Teen Design Fair,” where the young people could find out how the design superstars — and Gunn — got their start.

“You guys did something amazing,” Mrs. Obama said of the teen event. “You really raised the bar.”

“Far too few young people in this country have access to programs and opportunities like the one we did today,” she said. “Even those who live just minutes from our great museums and cultural centers may feel like these resources are beyond their reach.”

Guests dined on farm stand green salad, gazpacho filled with bounty from the first lady’s kitchen garden, Maine lobster carpaccio and chocolate sphere cake. Each guest found a plastic ViewMaster at their seat loaded with slides of the design winners’ creations.