As a kid, Wu always knew he wanted to do something creative. Back then that meant artist or illustrator. It wasn’t until his family moved from Taiwan to Vancouver, British Columbia, when he was nine that the gears for his career were set in motion, thanks to his English tutor and a door-to-door Jehovah’s Witness. The former, after noticing his artistic bent, would bring fashion magazines for him to flip through. The latter, whom his mom welcomed into the home because she thought it might help the family learn the new language even better, turned out to have been a fashion major in college. “She would say, ‘If you pay attention, I’ll teach you how to draw afterward,’” recalls Wu. “We would do an hour of Bible study and then an hour of fashion drawing. She even got me a set of watercolors. The story of how I learned the English language is how I discovered fashion, really.”
Ask Wu what informs his posh and pretty aesthetic and he’s somewhat at a loss for words. He grants that his mother was “very put together, hair always in a low chignon” and dressed him “superpreppy.” And from early on he found himself attracted to the works of designer Charles James and illustrator René Gruau. Unlike scores of young fashion students, Wu, who attended but didn’t graduate from Parsons The New School for Design, never veered to the hip or avant-garde side of the design scale. “I was always a little old-fashioned,” he acknowledges. “I never wanted to be the trendiest person. I’d much rather stay at the St. Regis than at a modern hotel.”
Which isn’t to say the designer breezed through his adolescence with a sweater-vest on his back and a copy of The Official Preppy Handbook in hand. In fact, while a student at the Loomis Chaffee boarding school in Connecticut, Wu sported a mohawk. “I went through this phase where I changed my hair color all the time, too,” he says. “And I had an earring here”—he tugs at his left earlobe—“but it got infected. It wasn’t meant to be.”
Despite Wu’s flirtation with an edgier personal look, his designs have remained refined and sophisticated, even as he parlays his initial cocktail collection into a self-funded lifestyle label loaded with daywear. “It was refreshing to come upon such a young designer who wasn’t defining modern style by deconstructing fashion, but rather searching for a voice that combines polish, tradition and femininity,” Linda Fargo, senior vice president of fashion and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, says via e-mail.