Jason Wu was born in Taiwan and spent his early childhood in Vancouver. But there’s no doubt the New York-based designer is living the American Dream—having created the memorable snowy and ruby inaugural gowns worn by Michelle Obama in 2009 and 2013. Fashion spoke to him early. At age 10, he asked for and received a sewing machine, using dolls as mannequins. He grew up speaking Mandarin and took a novel approach to learning English: His “textbooks” were his mother’s fashion magazines. Wu spent his final year of high school in France, went on to Parsons, and interned for Narciso Rodriguez.
In 2007, he opened his eponymous New York atelier with a staff of two. A year later, he was a finalist in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. Now with 35 employees, the studio produces most of its collections in New York with custom-developed fabrics from mills in France and Italy. To date, the 36-year-old designer has collected plenty of additional honors and awards. Among them: the CFDA/Swarovski Award for Womenswear and the International Designer of the Year at the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards. Interior Design spoke to Wu about his design process—and yes, he’s inspired by the architecture and furniture of a certain period—his special delivery of the First Lady’s gowns, and his just-completed studio workshop in partnership with Los Angeles-based non-profit Madworkshop at Otis College of Art and Design.
Interior Design: It looks like you took a straight path to fashion design. Who or what else has inspired you?
Jason Wu: I have always admired the work of Charles James, one of the original masters of couture.
ID: Tell us about your process, from sketching through the finished garment.
JW: I always start a collection by looking at new fabric techniques and embroideries. For the final design decision, I always ask these questions: Does it fit into the lifestyle of the Jason Wu woman? Is it considered absolutely desirable?
ID: Is there a Jason Wu look?
JW: My design aesthetic is feminine, refined, sophisticated, and highly inspired by my favorite era, the 1950s.
ID: By any chance, do you draw inspiration from interior design and/or architecture?
JW: Absolutely. For me, a beautifully designed space has as much transformative power as a beautiful garment. I often draw inspiration from mid-century furniture and architecture. I have always felt architecture and fashion design share synergies—the creative process and defining a personal aesthetic. I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Brizo and an exciting project coming up in June for furniture.
ID: Tell us about your own New York apartment.
JW: There is definitely a minimal aspect to my style that applies to my home. I particularly love collecting mid-century furniture. I work a lot with my friend, architect Andre Mellone, who actually designed my first fragrance bottle.
ID: You’re just completing a studio at LA’s Otis College of Art and Design in a project endowed by Madworkshop. It’s for 15 students to reinterpret the woman’s uniform, design and craft a garment, and culminate with a runway show. How did this happen?
JW: When I first toured Otis through the introduction of my dear friends David and Mary Martin, I was very impressed with the talent of the students. I wanted to bring a point of view from New York fashion to the students and prepare them with as much ammunition for success as professional fashion designers after school.
ID: Let’s return to Mrs. Obama. Is it true you bought plane tickets, so the dresses could have their own seats without being disturbed?
JW: Yes! The thought of putting the dresses in a cardboard box and leaving their delivery up to chance horrified me. There is no doubt that designing the First Lady’s inaugural gowns has been the greatest professional and personal accomplishment in my life. I moved to New York to be a part of American history.
ID: If you hadn’t become a fashion designer, what would you have been?
JW: A chef. Cooking is a creative outlet. I think about the ingredients and the way I present them, bringing the same level of attention I put into my design.
ID: What apps are you addicted to?
JW: Instagram and I am obsessed with this app called myPantone. You can take a picture of literally anything, and it dissects it into a color palette. It’s genius.
ID: In today’s world of casual dressing, what do you see as fashion’s place?
JW: I think there will always be a place for beauty and quality.
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