Famed designer Jason Wu juggles time and textures

By Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly

Jason Wu at Nordstrom in Seattle on April 15 (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

Try as he may, clothing designer Jason Wu can rarely be named without mention of the stunning one-shoulder, white silk chiffon dress worn by Michelle Obama at the inaugural ball. While Wu is grateful for the recognition, his designs in every show since the inaugural ball have been a deliberate departure from the notable dress. 

Though many in the industry saw the white dress as Wu’s claim to fame, Wu has had a long career devoted to color. His current fall, spring, and resort lines for 2010 reflect his love of bright colors and graphic prints, all with the expected Jason Wu twist. This year, we see an even greater play with prints, and colors used in ways to mimic certain textures. His spring line included denim silk rompers, a sweatsuit with a navy tweed hood, and a black dress with colored polka dots. His edgy staple-stitch dresses were the fan favorites for the season.

Wu is also known for his use of embellishments like Swarovski crystals, gold faille, and feathers, channeling a movement that is lighter than air. His youthful yet technical play has allowed him to redefine his role as the designer for the first lady. He is a designer for all ladies, offering versatile sportswear that bears a touch of couture.

Left to right, top to bottom: Models wear gold leaf silk sheath dresses and an ostrich feather halter dress; Jason Wu’s signature x-ray stitch and staple stitch dresses from his spring 2010 collection; and models wear outerwear from Jason Wu’s fall 2010 collection. (Photos by Tiffany Ran/NWAW)

His recent designs were featured at his trunk show on Thursday, April 15, at the flagship Nordstrom in downtown Seattle. Trunk shows give Wu the opportunity to understand the different consumers that wear his clothes. He took the opportunity as he worked his way around the room, finding time to speak with buyers and reporters as well as getting his picture taken with bloggers, fashion students, and loyal fans.

“Traveling gives me a good perspective on my work. In the world, there are different climates and different tastes, and traveling allows me to be educated on the different parts of the world where my clothing are sold,” said Wu. “It’s exciting to meet new customers and new people.”

Wu’s talent is also a product of his international experience. The Taiwan-native moved to Vancouver at the age of 9. He attended boarding schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut. He studied in Rennes, France, during his senior year in high school and studied sculpture in Tokyo before attending Parsons School of Design for college. Wu then interned for famed American designer Narcisco Rodriguez.

Wu credits his parents for his interest in fashion. “My parents were very good at educating me on art, and fashion is a kind of art. I started reading fashion magazines and became curious about it,” said Wu.

Wu’s mother saw his potential and took him to bridal shops to sketch the dresses. His first stab at fashion design was designing a line of dolls at age 16. He designed everything from  hair and makeup to clothes.

This year, Wu’s gleaned inspiration from sources like his view of the New York Post Office building from his new studio and photographs by Richard Avedon. Like his spring line, his fall line offers a bold yet tasteful use of embellishments. Attendees at the trunk show marveled over the use of gold leafing on his signature satin sheaths and the power suits splashed with the cast-off negative prints of a chemical spill. Wu embraced the season by introducing outerwear like non-structured cashmere coats, boxy mohair sweaters, and fitted plaid blazers.

“I actually started out in menswear,” Wu said to an attendee at the trunk show. “But I ended up in a completely feminine field!”

The often shy and soft-spoken Wu is an unlikely maker for such dynamic designs, but there are many elements of Wu that are present in his designs. These include his study of sculpture reflected in his dimensional skirts, his love of photography, his experience with menswear, his balance of international influences from European couture, and the right touch of Asian restraint.

“[The Asian influence] in my work is not literal, but it’s there in the clothes, in the discipline, and in my love for clean lines,” said Wu.

A year following the numerous press junkets and fanfare of the inauguration ball, Wu has been able to wind down and focus exclusively on developing his different lines including his sunglasses line that hit stores in February 2010. His demanding schedule is unlike that of the average 27-year-old, but the fashion prodigy keeps a humble outlook.

“I’m like most other people. I enjoy traveling, cooking, movies, and I like to play poker,” said Wu. ♦

Tiffany Ran can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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