michelle-obama-jason-wu-gown_web.jpgWASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama said recently that she'll always cherish the moment she slipped into her inaugural ball gown, a one-shouldered, white chiffon design she wore for her first Cinderella-like spins on the dance floor as first lady.

She’ll have to hold on to the memories, because the gown isn’t exactly hers anymore.

In keeping with tradition, Mrs. Obama donated the Jason Wu design to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History on March 9. It will go on public display in a new gallery for the museum’s first ladies exhibit, featuring presidents’ wives from Mamie Eisenhower to the present.

Dotted with beads and covered in fabric petals, Mrs. Obama's gown was a star attraction at 10 inaugural balls held on a frigid Jan. 20, 2009, to celebrate Barack Obama's swearing-in earlier that day as the nation’s 44th president.

Mrs. Obama said memories came rushing back after she saw the gown for the first time since taking it off after that whirlwind night more than a year ago – memories of the freezing cold weather, how hectic the day was and how she had less than an hour to get ready for the balls.

“But I'll never forget the moment that I slipped on this beautiful gown,” said Mrs. Obama, who wore clothes by another up-and-coming designer to the event – a black-and-white silk twill, off-the-shoulder dress by Prabal Gurung of New York.

“I remember how just luscious I felt as the president and I were announced onto the stage for the first of many dances,” she said. “And I'll cherish that moment for the rest of my life.”

All first ladies since 1912 have contributed to the collection, though not all first ladies part with their inaugural gowns. Mrs. Obama's donation has added significance since hers is the first gown worn by a first lady of color. The new gallery will feature a total of 10 inaugural dresses.

Wu joined Mrs. Obama for the March 9 unveiling. It was his first time meeting her.

“I felt like I've known her for years,” he said. “Dressing a woman is one of the ultimate connections.”

Looking at the other dresses in exhibit, Nancy Reagan's one-shoulder off white gown by James Galanos was one of his favorites. He also liked Jackie Kennedy's white dress.  It was a coincidence, though, that his also was white.

“I was going for pure and I wanted the dress to come naturally. My inspiration was Michelle and the moment, but I didn't want to study too much into it. It was like an actor, when they're doing a remake of another film, they don't want to watch the original. I wanted to make it my own,” he said. “But looking back now, each dress represented the moment. Nancy Reagan's was very 80s with heavy beading, Jackie's was very 60s with 60s elegance, and Eisenhower's was very 50s.”

When he saw the dress on TV on inauguration night, he was excited and “shell shocked” but didn't think about the historical significance.

“It really dawned on me today that the dress will outlive me,” he said.

Photo: Michelle Obama