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Jolie, Salonga, Chloe Kim Glam Up State Dinner for SKorea

Angelina Jolie and son Maddox Jolie-Pitt arrive for the State Dinner with President Joe Biden and the South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol at the White House, April 26, 2023, in Washington.
Angelina Jolie and son Maddox Jolie-Pitt arrive for the State Dinner with President Joe Biden and the South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol at the White House, April 26, 2023, in Washington.

Actor Angelina Jolie, home improvement duo Chip and Joanna Gaines and Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim headlined the list of big names from politics, business, sports and entertainment glamming up a fancy black-tie dinner that U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Wednesday for South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Broadway's Lea Salonga, one of the night's entertainers, confessed as she arrived that she was “freaking out” over the whole experience, allowing, “It feels like being in the middle of a fairy tale.” Kim, for her part, served up a classic understatement as she strolled in, telling reporters, ”I heard the food’s going to be very good.” Jolie wasn't inclined to chat as she arrived in a vintage Chanel jacket and a flowing cream gown, but her date, 21-year-old son Maddox, at least offered that his favorite thing about Seoul was “the people.”

A smattering of politicians made the guest list, too, and most were determinedly on message, talking a lot of shop. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., held forth on infrastructure, debt reduction and the budget. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., talked abortion rights. Former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a big Democratic donor from Illinois, talked up plans for the Democratic convention in Chicago in 2024, promising, “of course” it will go well.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, proudly showed off her traditional hanbok gown, saying it was important to showcase cultural diversity. She added that the big challenge was “not to trip over it.”

Also among the nearly 200 guests were Arthur Blank, a co-founder of Home Depot; Pachinko author Min Jin Lee; and former Major League Baseball pitcher Chan Ho Park. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah also attended, as did the governors of Delaware, New Jersey and Vermont.

On a perfect spring evening, guests entered the White House by strolling through the Jacqueline Kennedy garden in the East Wing and being directed to a cocktail reception before dinner in the East Room, where tables were topped with towering centerpieces of cherry tree boughs in full bloom. On the menu: crabcakes, beef ribs and banana splits.

While most guests were strolling in through the garden, Biden and wife Jill welcomed Yoon and wife Kim Keon Hee on a red carpet on the steps of the North Portico, where the president flashed a thumbs-up for the assembled cameras. Kim wore a cream-colored jacket over her gown, which was also creamy. Jill Biden wore a mauve sheath gown by Reem Acra.

In their toasts before dinner, President Biden said he believed Yoon's visit had “brought two nations even closer together.”

Yoon, for his part, nodded to Biden's Irish heritage and love of Irish poets.

“There's an old saying, and Mr. President, this one is also Irish, that goes: A good friend is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have,” Yoon said, offering a toast to our “ironclad alliance.”

A state visit, including an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn and a sparkly state dinner, is the highest diplomatic honor the U.S. bestows on its closest allies. Yoon was visiting as the U.S. and South Korea mark the 70th year of an alliance that began at the end of the Korean War and committed the U.S. to help South Korea defend itself, particularly from North Korea. Approximately 28,500 U.S. troops are currently based in South Korea.

Biden’s first invitation for a state visit went to France last year and President Emmanuel Macron was toasted at a black-tie dinner last December with more than 300 guests inside a heated pavilion erected on the south grounds of the White House.