An Affair of State

updated 06/02/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Dress
Mrs. Bush chose her gown (and four outfits) during a visit to see Manhattan couturier Oscar de la Renta's spring line in February. "She saw this dress on a hanger," says de la Renta. "She loved the fabric—she saw it was bright." The First Lady returned for a fitting May 7, but no alterations were necessary. "She dresses in a very classic manner. She doesn't want anything overwhelming," says the designer. And, he adds, "she has a great figure."

Thursday 11:00 a.m.
Calligrapher Debra Brown begins work on 130 place cards; an equal number of menus, each hand-painted with watercolors, will become souvenirs for guests to take home.

Friday 9:00 a.m.
Peony bouquets are refrigerated over the weekend. Mrs. Bush vetoes tall arrangements that might block guests' views.

Monday 10:45 a.m.
In the ground floor kitchen, chefs prepare lamb chops and gazpacho, part of a menu first tested on the Bushes in March. Upstairs, pastry chef Roland Mesnier (right) goes tropical with mango sherbet, coconut mousse, pineapple and chocolate. "I tried to put together a dessert with Philippine flair," he says.

Monday 3:00 p.m.
Four hours before the guests arrive, White House usher Daniel Shanks (center) gives the head tables, set with the Clinton china, a final going-over. "The room is so finely tuned, it's like a Stradivarius violin."

Monday 7:30 p.m.
Right on time, the Arroyos pull up to the North Portico where, greeted by the Bushes, they meet the press. Guests like Tom Brokaw are in attendance. "It's a magical night," says an aide.

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