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Jason Wu: His January Miss Wu Collection

An interview with the young designer—he talks about his new Miss Wu Collection and looks back at how far he’s come.

A TIMELINE

JULY 2008
His first official magazine credit: Wu is featured in a W cover feature with Kate Moss, Daria Werbowy and Lara Stone. Shot by Bruce Weber in Miami, the story follows “the world’s hottest new designers”—a group that ­includes Wu, Alexander Wang, Gareth Pugh and Christophe Decarnin.

JANUARY 2009
Michelle Obama wears a custom Jason Wu gown to the presidential inaugural ball. The dress is donated to the Smithsonian Institution a year later, and in a speech at the exhibition’s unveiling, the first lady remarks of the gown: “It’s simple, it’s elegant and it comes from the brilliant mind of someone who is living the American dream.”

SEPTEMBER 2009
Wu launches an eyewear collection with Modo that’s currently sold in more than 50 stores, including Bergdorf Goodman and Nordstrom.

JANUARY 2010
The designer moves his headquarters to a spacious 10,000-square-foot showroom on West 35th Street in NYC’s Garment District.

JANUARY 2010
Diane Kruger, a nominee for her role in Inglourious Basterds, hits the SAG Awards red carpet in a Jason Wu gown.

SEPTEMBER 2010
Inspired by old Hollywood glamour, Wu unveils his first handbag and shoe collection during New York Fashion Week. It also marks the debut of the brand’s new logo—a small owl icon.

FEBRUARY 2012
Wu’s new signature It bag launches as a part of his prefall collection. Inspired by model Daphne Groeneveld, the bag is named the Daphne.

FEBRUARY 2012
His capsule collection for Target launches in stores and online, and it sells out just hours after its release. Each of the 53 pieces, including apparel and accessories, each retail for less than $59.99.

JANUARY 2013
The Miss Wu collection, his lower-priced contemporary line, will hit Nord­strom stores. The ’60s-inspired pieces (blouses, leather jackets, A-line skirts) will range in price from $195 to $795. 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE DESIGNER

It has been almost four years since the bitterly cold January evening when designer Jason Wu gathered a few close friends in his Midtown Manhattan apartment, ordered pepperoni and mushroom pizza from Domino’s and, like most of the rest of America, turned on the TV to wait for President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, to make their appearance at the first of several inaugural celebrations. When the first lady finally floated out onstage at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center wearing the romantic, frothy, ivory silk-chiffon dress Wu had created for her, the designer was shocked. He had no idea she had chosen his dress for this historic moment. Within 10 minutes, CNN was calling and Wu’s in-box was flooded with congratulatory e-mails from as far away as Sydney and Taipei, his hometown. Television crews bombarded his small Garment District studio.

Almost instantly, Wu’s career was transformed, and he became a household name.

Yet in many ways Wu, who was only 26 years old at the time, was prepared for the blitz of press and attention he received from that night. “I had to grow up really quickly, but in terms of doing the right thing with it, facing it head-on, dealing with the good and the bad and the crazy, I was ready,” he says. “I knew I didn’t want to be a media darling. I don’t want to star in anything. I’m simple, and I want to be as unassuming as possible. But they don’t teach you how to deal with that kind of situation in school.” The inaugural gown would not be Wu’s last piece for Michelle Obama. He continued to dress her in brilliant shades of fuchsia, lime and teal—in dresses that would appear on the cover of Vogue and travel to Buckingham Palace for private moments with the queen.

Now, on the eve of another election, Wu has been thinking back on that moment and how special it was for him. “You can never really repeat it,” he says, days before previewing his latest collection, Miss Wu, a contemporary line designed with his friends in mind and to be sold exclusively at Nordstrom. “As a world and a country, we’re in a very different place now. That dress symbolized so much more than just the occasion; there was so much hope in that dress.”

As well as personal promise. Since that night, Wu’s company and brand have taken giant steps forward: He has moved into a 10,000-square-foot showroom, launched a line of sunglasses with Modo and introduced a signature collection of color-block leather handbags and bright textured shoes. Earlier this year, he collaborated with Target on a collection of clothing and accessories, an experience, he says, that totally changed his perspective on fashion cycles, trends and the women who wear his clothing—not to mention his confidence in his creative abilities beyond the scope of fashion. The Target collaboration had him dabbling in design and brand development, creating a television commercial and print advertising campaign in which he starred alongside a mischievous black cat. “My grandfather always said there are two ways to learn: Take your time or put me on a bike and push me down a hill,” he says. “That’s what he did.”

Although Wu may feel more comfortable behind the scenes, it’s virtually impossible to avoid the spotlight when your fan base includes Hollywood beauties like Zoë Saldana, Emily Blunt and Diane Kruger. Some of Wu’s most cherished moments over the past few years include seeing Michelle Williams in a dove gray embroidered chiffon resort gown at the 2010 Venice Film Festival, Emma Stone in a green silk chiffon printed dress at the 2012 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and Karlie Kloss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala in his magenta chiffon and black lace gown. But the style icon holding a special place in Wu’s heart is Kruger, who has been wearing his gowns on the red carpet for years—most recently at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. “We have a genuine friendship,” he says, “like Givenchy and Hepburn. It’s something quite nice to have today. She’s very much that Jason Wu woman; she knows who she is, and she understands fit and quality.”

In stores this coming January, the designer’s Miss Wu collection—inspired by actress and singer Jane Birkin and featuring plenty of 1960s-style silhouettes in whimsical prints and bold colors—was conceived with 20-somethings in mind. “It felt natural for me to address my generation,” he says. “They’re really into fashion, and they have great taste, but they can’t afford to buy designer clothes.”

After that, well, don’t expect another inaugural gown—and that’s not a political prediction. Following some much deserved time off, Wu says, he’ll spend the next year focusing on strengthening his accessories collection. Designing handbags and shoes, he says, is like starting over, learning a totally new craft. This time around, though, the guy who says he likes to learn by just getting on the bicycle is in no rush. He’s doing things at his own pace.

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