This year, in addition to the launch of a prefall collection in which he indulged in a more structured vibe inspired by stewardess uniforms from the Sixties, Wu went further into accessories, beyond the occasional belt. His started out with sunglasses, in collaboration with Modo Eyewear, which he followed up with the debut of his own GE digital camera collection. Shades are a no-brainer business leap, but cameras? The designer promises he’s not heading for Pierre Cardin–ville, and will be judicious in deciding about collaborations. “I was up for the challenge,” he says of the camera. “I created a feminine version, with slightly rounded sides, so it looks like a clutch in a way.” No, he’s not launching handbags quite yet, though he has already begun developing shoes.
Other projects are demanding his attention as well. Wu was recently tapped to design a capsule collection for TSE Cashmere, to debut in July, and still serves as partner and creative director of Integrity Toys, the Maryland company he has worked with since age 16, after cold-calling and brazenly maneuvering his way into a freelance doll-designer gig. “He was very persistent,” says Integrity president Percy Newsum. “He even came in with contacts and knew a doll distributor who would take a chance with him. I said, ‘Why not? We’ll give it a shot.’ We did 500 [copies of his doll], and it immediately sold out. He has collectors who follow his work, and they’re kind of proud to see him gaining recognition and maturing.”
Wu has no plans to abandon his dollmaking, even as his $10 million company has taken off. Not only is he working on a collection for Madame Alexander, but as a sign of his commitment to Integrity, he just installed one of its employees at his new offices.
Would the designer’s career be bursting at the proverbial seams if not for the first lady’s patronage? Perhaps not. But Wu is quick to emphasize that all the cards were already lined up in his favor. “[The inauguration] was the perfect timing,” he says. “If we had had this happen a year before, I don’t think we would have been able to fully take advantage of the press.”
Weeks later Wu gives another tour of his now completed studio, remarking how the Giancarlo Valle–designed space, furnished with the help of interior designer Jesse Carrier, will serve as the testing ground for what Wu’s stores might look like. The result cements, in brick-and-mortar form, all that classic-meets-modern brandspeak in which he has become increasingly well versed: Gruau prints alongside industrial images by Christoph Morlinghaus; an Otto Zitko painting, all Expressionist squiggles; vintage mirrors; 19th-century doors; salmon-hued wallpaper in one room, stark gray walls in another. Even the chairs in reception are a hybrid of Louis XIV and sleek metal. Wu adds, half joking, that his branding efforts might take off à la McFadden. “If I get two more floors,” he says, “management said it would name the building after me.”