Jason Wu is a former Vancouverite who is now leading the global fashion brat pack from New York City’s garment district. When the designer visited The Room in Downtown Vancouver’s The Bay to show his spring 2012 collection, I leapt at the chance to chat with him.
Wu’s look has evolved from the epitome of Park Avenue chic to edgy innovation that mixes graceful couture with hot pants and graffiti prints. When Michelle Obama wore a gown by the 26-year-old designer to the presidential inauguration in 2009, Jason Wu became something of legend. At 29, hanging out in The Room, Wu is self deprecating and, on occasion, mischievous as he articulates his design process. Get the full interview after the jump.
Me: How long have you been here in Vancouver? When are you leaving?
Jason Wu: A few hours. I leave tomorrow.
Me: Are you going to have time to do anything fun, you know, take a walk around town? Have you had a chance to develop an impression of Vancouver fashion?
JW: Not yet, but I’m having dinner tonight at L’Abattoir. I’m hoping I can go out and take a walk and get a good impression.
Me: We want to claim you as a Vancouverite because you moved here when you were nine before leaving for boarding school. Do you consider yourself a Vancouverite?
JW: Yeah, I am a Vancouverite. When I moved here at age nine I didn’t speak a word of English, so I had this tutor and she taught me English through women’s fashion magazines because I was interested in the pretty pictures. That’s how it all began. I learned English here and I learned how to sew here, which is pretty formative.
Me: When was the last time you were here?
JW: Almost 15 years ago. I’m really excited to be back.
Me: What’s your favourite piece from your spring 2012 collection?
JW: The Citron yellow gown.
Me: I know you’ve studied many different art techniques from life drawing to sculpture. Talk to me about how that interacts with and influences your fashion design.
JW: It’s a huge influence. I wanted to be an illustrator for years–a fashion illustrator actually–and I also did extensive sculpting work starting when I was little. I kept it up for a many, many years. I think I saw in fashion the accumulation of everything I love. There was the sculptural aspect where you create shapes and volume. There’s the pop art element that comes in when I create prints use colour. I also had a fascination with the human body, which came from learning life drawing. Working with the body was quite interesting to me, the different shapes.
Me: You’re a womenswear designer so I take it you were fascinated with the female body specifically?
JW: Yes, the female body specifically. The first thing I drew was a mermaid when I was five or six. It was always the woman’s form. I was destined to become a womenswear designer. I think it shows through my work. There’s a sense of body consciousness an form in everything that I do.
Me: Let’s talk a little about the inevitable. Tell me about the inaugural gown you created for Michelle Obama in 2009. What did that mean for you personally and as a career milestone?
JW: That was something that was more than memorable, it was quite life changing, not just as a designer but as a person. I was wide-eyed about fashion. I had already moved to New York to do fashion and I was making it. Then to be the youngest designer to ever do an inaugural gown for the first African American President and First Lady in history was something I never expected. I didn’t even realize it was happening at the time. I thought it was really significant. I came to the West to design. This experience really signified what was possible. It was so modern.
Me: How long did it take you to create the inaugural gown? What was the biggest challenge? Was there anything particularly complex with the construction of the garment?
JW: It took two months. I had a team of four at the time and we were all working on it. I personally flew it to Chicago and I didn’t know if Michelle was going to wear it until the day of. The challenge designing the dress was the fit. I was given measurements and it’s always easier when you have a feel for someone after meeting them. So I had to go on pictures and really think–not think about how important this dress might become or all the things that might come with it. I thought about the woman. It was as simple as that. I focused on getting it done because there’s over 5,000 Swarovski crystals on there, tons of little flowers and intricate embroidery. There was a lot of work that went into it and a lot of craft.
Me: What’s your vice of choice when you are super stressed?
JW: A glass of Champagne.
Note: Jason Wu’s fall/winter 2011 collection is available now at The Room at The Bay. Jason Wu Studio’s spring/summer 2012 collection is available for pre-order and available at The Room next year.