What a difference a year makes.
A cliché perhaps, but one perfectly suited to Jason Wu’s remarkable ride. As the designer retraces the steps of his short career and expounds on a host of new developments, those six tidy words apply well. Few other designers have spent the past year on such a warp-speed upswing, and none has gotten as laser-focused a publicity boost as Wu. Need we even mention his one-shoulder inauguration ballgown for Michelle Obama?
“That was a life-changing night,” says the 27-year-old Taiwanese-born designer. “That kind of global exposure comes once in a lifetime. I mean, I was doing the Today show, CNN and Good Morning America back-to-back the next morning. It was insane.”
In the days immediately thereafter, Wu’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. There was an avalanche of e-mails in his in-box. Paparazzi were camped out at the Au Bon Pain across the street from his office on West 37th Street in New York. Endorsement and book deals were streaming in, as were pitches for his own reality show. “There were a lot of inappropriate things,” he says of the blizzard of offers, including one for a housewares promotion. “I had to buckle down and say no. People wanted to make me into a television personality.”
On a recent evening Wu is eager to shelve the hype and steer the spotlight back to his business. He has just given a tour of his new Manhattan office digs, a generous 9,000 square feet complete with its own shipping warehouse in the rear. For anyone who visited his former studio, where elevator buttons didn’t quite light up and the white walls came courtesy of Wu and a bucket of paint, this is an impressive upgrade. He has taken over a full floor in the old Mary McFadden building in the Garment District, and while the place is still under construction, he’s enthusing about “injecting brand elements into the space—that double element of old and new.” Right now that mix means a velvet couch, antique car headlights and a flat-screen TV showing an endless loop of runway footage.
“There’s something quite classic about what I do, but tweaked a little bit,” Wu explains. “It’s all about contrast, like the classic pink feathered dress paired with an acid green belt, from spring.” He cites another example: his runway venue for that season. “I love the fact that I showed a tweed hoodie at the St. Regis,” he says, pulling out the invitation, as if on cue, and running his hands over the invite’s gilt edge. “We’ve been working on establishing the brand, and that’s not only in the clothing itself. It’s the people we dress, the kind of paper we print on.…”