New York designer (and Michelle Obama favourite) Jason Wu speaks to Phoebe Watt about his 10 years in the biz, and how he segued from couture to casual with the launch of ‘sibling label’ Grey Jason Wu.
PW: Earlier this year, you celebrated 10 years in business. How has the fashion landscape changed in that time and how have you adapted?
JW: Over the past decade, fashion has become increasingly fast-paced. It’s sometimes hard to keep up when the industry is constantly pushing for newer and faster, but I’ve always tried to stay true to my aesthetic. Couture craftsmanship and maintaining an attention to detail is always my main focus.
In June 2016, you launched Grey Jason Wu, which from day one was described as a ‘sibling’ label. What kind of sibling is it?
She’s the twin sister of the Wu woman, with an elegant yet casual vibe about her. Grey is a way for me to embrace every facet of the Wu woman’s life — from work to weekend and everything in between.
When you first launched, you worked with Pantone to create a custom shade of grey to use on your marketing material and packaging. Tell us about that…
Collaborating with the Pantone Color Institute to create my very own shade of grey was such a personal project. The idea of being able to translate and solidify the significance and meaning of the brand through colour was very special. The shade is a lighter tone of cool grey, which exudesan uncomplicated sophistication.
Grey is my favourite colour — I’ve always been attracted to its ease, calm elegance and warmth. Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene [launched in 1975] is a perfume that jump-started my obsession with grey flannel material and was the inspiration behind the name of the brand.
You’ve worked with a different visual artist for each of your collections. what was special about your most recent collaboration with Pascal Vonlanthen?
I collaborated with Pascal for spring 2017. The Swiss artist has a unique and intuitive approach to his work that really intrigued me, and his vibrant and graphic artwork is translated in the collection through embroidery, sequin details and whimsical prints.
What can you tell us about next season’s artistic collaboration?
Fall 2017 incorporates the artwork of artist-designer duo Lara Apponyi and Michael Woodcock, known as Work + Sea. Lara’s background is in art and Michael’s is in architecture. I first discovered their wallpaper and was inspired to work with them to create something very modern. The prints incorporate botanical themes — and even cats!
Jason with Michelle Obama and the gown he designed for the 2009 inaugural ball.
Is designing for Grey more or less challenging than designing for Jason Wu?
I get into a creative cycle when designing for both Jason Wu and Grey. I’m constantly thinking ahead, which is simultaneously the most challenging and fulfilling part of the design process. Grey very much has a different concept. The ideas are separate and the intent of the clothes is different. Overall, the idea is more casual and inspired by everyday life.
Earlier this year, you addressed the pressure to keep churning out collections and said one of your resolutions for 2017 was to make more time to be creative. How is that working out? I am taking the time to savour things a bit more. I’ve decided to streamline the main Jason Wu collection to two compelling stories a year — spring and fall — instead of four. From a creative perspective, it’s been very liberating.
Are you still a businessman, first and foremost? Your many brands, projects and partnerships suggest yes.
I think I have a natural ability to balance both business and creativity.
You’re set to release your first fragrance in August. Is that something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
I’m so excited to share my first fragrance for women — it’s a childhood fascination come to fruition. Stay tuned!
Diane Kruger at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in pieces from her and Jason’s collaboration.
You’ve also been busy working on a capsule collection of pieces with your friend and muse Diane Kruger…
Diane is a dear friend and someone I’ve collaborated with for many years. We came up with the idea of creating the capsule together over drinks on the beach during Christmas vacation in Tulum. It just felt so right! It’s been thrilling watching this collection come together in the most effortless way.
Undoubtedly the most famous Jason Wu woman is Michelle Obama, who you dressed for each inauguration ball. Would you call her a muse of sorts?
Absolutely. There’s no doubt that designing former First Lady Michelle Obama’s inaugural gowns has been the greatest professional and personal accomplishment of my life.
Your history of dressing HER is often referenced in interviews, but you’ve remained discreet about your working relationship and you’re private about your own politics. Have you felt extra pressure in the past 12 months to take more of a public political stance?
The political climate is something we’ve all reacted to in our own ways. It has manifested in my work through the creation of unapologetic and feminine clothes.
You have a very clear position when it comes to style — elegant, refined, sophisticated and sexy. In an era in which ripped denim can be worn with heels and a blazer and called office-appropriate, your approach is kind of refreshing. Why do you think ‘dressing up’ ever fell out of fashion?
I think our clothes reflect how we live. And we’re busy! I, for one, am constantly running from one office to another, often in different countries. Our lives demand simplicity, and this is where Grey comes in. The Grey woman can be comfortable and versatile, but still chic with an elegant ease.