Jason Wu gets real about good design, fast fashion, and how to look chic in the Singapore weather
Honest to God
The height of Jason Wu's career came early. Way early. He was 24 when he launched his eponymous label. He was 26 when Michelle Obama came knocking on his door. He was 28 when he won the prestigious CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear. He was 30 when he was named artistic director of Hugo Boss, women's division.
Hop, skip and 5 years later, Jason Wu is finally coming into his own, steering the wheel off centre. First up was the big announcement earlier this year: Wu is doing away with resort and pre-fall collections — a topic to be fleshed out later. Then came his debut into the world of fragrance. Some may opt to call it a divergence; what matters is that Wu is calling it a development.
It would seem that the Taiwanese-born designer is ready for a reinvention. Fashion editor Jolene Khor probes.
Your aesthetic has changed much over the 11 years you've been in the business. Your earlier work was girly; your current work is sportier. To what do you contribute this progression?
I think I just grew up. I was 24 when I first started my label and I'm 35 now. I've grown up with my customers, I've grown up with my work. My work now is more confident, more womanly. It's sexier, it's got a little more edge.
You combined your resort and spring/summer collection in 2018. How did this decision come about?
I'm combining fall and pre-fall too. I'm just tired of the speed I was moving in. As a designer, I don't think the current fast speed is very suitable for luxury. I want to be able to be the designer I started out to be. Good design takes time to consider, to create, to craft and to make. Things of quality take time to make. This is not fast fashion.
Who was the designer you started out to be?
I want to spend all day dreaming of designs, thinking about what techniques I want to look at, what are my references, what are my fantasies. At some point, that got away over the years because I'm just always on a schedule, I didn't really have time to think about anything. So I decided I was going to stop myself.
That can't be easy as you continue helming GREY Jason Wu and be the artistic director of womenswear at Hugo Boss...
Yup, I have a lot of jobs. And that's why especially I want more time for everything.
"I'm just tired of the speed I was moving in. Good design takes time. This is not fast fashion."
What can fans hope to see with this change?
I hope they'll see that the work getting even more refined. Better. I want to take the time, especially with Jason Wu, the top line. It should be the best of what I can offer. It should be a fantasy; it should be a dream. It's really hard to dream when you're on a time limit. Dreams don't have a definitive time, it doesn't work on a schedule.
What are you dreaming of lately?
I just released my spring/summer 2018 collection that was about the process of me creating my first fragrance. Hence there was a lot of floral references, it was quite sporty, very sexy... a lot of pastels that reference the ingredients of the ingredients. That's my current state of mind.
Is this your first time in Singapore?
Technically no. I was here... 29 years ago? When I was 6. So I would say it's the first time I'm seeing Singapore properly. Even though I've been in the hotel the last two days.
Except when you were at Din Tai Fung.
Yes! How do you know? Did you see my Instagram Story? Oh my god — I'm obsessed.
There's no Din Tai Fung in New York right?
But you have Tim Ho Wan.
It just opened last year in December but it's completely different. I love both, but it's not the same. Din Tai Fung is something I grew up with.
"Jason Wu should be the best of what I can offer. It should be a fantasy; it should be a dream. And dreams don't work on a schedule."
What do you think of the fashion scene in Singapore?
I haven't seen much actually. But so far, every editor that's come in — including you — is very well-dressed. Really quite chic! Everybody's been very sophisticated.
I think it's because we're meeting you so we put in a little more effort.
Well, now I'm sorry I didn't dress up. [Laughs]
How would you dress if you had to deal with the hot and humid weather in Singapore, 365 days a year?
Wear breathable fabrics, a lot of cotton and not a lot of wool. This isn't a conversation limited to Singapore because clothing has become seasonless. The weather in New York can be unpredictable; you want to be able to transition whatever you're wearing because today it could be raining, tomorrow it could be snowing, next day could be sunny. It's a crazy weather situation around the globe so the way we design has to change, you know? I think what's gone is like very heavy traditional winter wear — unless you're going skiing. I don't think people buy a big winter coat, every year once a year anymore. People layer, people are looking for comfort... people are constantly looking for things to suit the season but when the season changes so much, we layer.
Ergo, there's never a good excuse for bad dressing?
Do you dress differently in different cities?
I was in New York three days ago wearing this [gesturing to his black sweatshirt and jeans] and I'm here and I'm still wearing this. Two completely different time zones and weathers but I'm wearing the same kind of things. I'm going to Shanghai next and maybe I'll put a jacket on since it's cold but it's not like I'm going to wear a big wool jacket or anything.
Tell me about your spring/summer 2018 collection.
I was really inspired by my journey of creating my first fragrance. It's also an homage to American sportswear, which is how I started my career. I see how that's changed so much... sportswear now encompasses everything. They're not just separates and casual things. It's in everything; everything is sportswear. There's less of a definition between daywear, eveningwear, casualwear — everything has cross-pollinated with each other and my collection is a reaction to that.
You've used the word sexy a few times earlier. Do you think the paradigm of sexy has changed — be less provocative and more about strength?
Everyone defines sexy differently. The way I define sexy is sensual. I've never been an obvious person about va-va-voom sexy with boobs and everything, you know? There's always a sophistication with what I do. My brand of sexy is subtle. Tasteful. I believe in the subtlety of how you can still be sexy and a little covered up at the same time.
You shot to fame when you were 26 going on 27. What has been your biggest takeaway since then?
That I know absolutely nothing. [Laughs] And that I'm still learning.
In hindsight, do you think achieving success so young was a good thing?
I honestly don't know. I have no idea but I wouldn't redo it any other way. It just happened the way it happened. It's the same with everything in life — if you can go back in history, what would you do differently? There's plenty of examples where I could have done things better, but I don't know if I'll be here if I had done things any other way. Does that make sense?
What are some of the things you could have done better?
It's a long list. [Laughs]
Would you say you're a nostalgic person? Do you ever look back?
I'm not nostalgic but I always look back because fashion is about references. Whether it's from Egyptian times, or the 1950's or 1960's or 1970's, you're always looking back in order to look forward.
What are some of your favourite references?
I love the '50s. It was such a glamorous time. It really was the golden age of couture. Just beautiful. There was perfection in it everything; a certain manicured quality down to what the stewardesses wore. It was a very dreamy time. We're a lot more real now.
But that's not a bad thing.
Not a bad thing. Clothing is more casual now.
Do you think that's where womenswear is headed? More casual?
For sure. The definition of dressing up is very different than it was five, 15 years ago. You can wear jeans to an evening event now.
"There's plenty of examples where I could have done things better, but I don't know if I'll be here if I had done things any other way."
What did you used to wear then?
[Laughs] Oh god, umm there was a lot that I used to wear 10, 15 years ago. I was much more into fashion then, while now I'm more like very basic — black, white, navy and grey. I was a lot like my friend Bryanboy. He always dresses up. I was much more like that. Maybe with not as good a taste. I always admire him but I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it. No way.
It's a lot of effort!
That's his full time job. I don't have time for that. I don't do it well so I admire him for it.
What are we going to see happen in fashion in the foreseeable future?
Luxury is redefining itself. It's become more pared back, more about rarity, quality, speciality. Things that not everybody has. Women's fashion has always been forever changing, it's just changing that much faster now. The role between fast fashion and luxury fashion will become more separated over the next few years. Luxury shouldn't and can't keep up with the speed of fast fashion. And fast fashion is not going anywhere.