The designer talks about how Robert Polidori’s documentation of the restoration of Versailles inspired his latest collection and why his mother will always be his style icon
Every so often fashion gives us a real-life fairytale. It certainly was the case for 28-year old Taiwanese designer, Jason Wu when Michelle Obama picked his ivory one-shouldered gown to wear to her husband’s historic inauguration. Since that iconic moment, Wu’s polished and feminine aesthetic has been catapulted to fame and seen him emerge as his generation’s answer to Oscar De La Renta. And what befits fairytales more than crystals? For two years now, Wu has been selected by Swarovski to join an elite cohort of designers (which includes Holly Fulton, Rodarte, Mary Katrantzou and JW Anderson) to partake from their endless Aladdin’s cave of treasures.
For A/W11, Wu was inspired by Robert Polidori’s documentation of the restoration of Versailles. So opulence met raw edges (in gray sweatshirts trimmed with lace and pink evening gowns splashed with gold embroidery) and his concept of ‘baroque sportswear’ came together. As shown in this short film directed by KT Auleta and styled by Dazed’s Fashion Director, Karen Langley, thousands of delicate pailettes and crystals glisten on gilded chiffon dresses and tailored jackets like old jewels discovered in the attic; creating a calm but mesmerizing vision of glamour.
Dazed Digital: When did you start working with Swarovski and what does it add to your work?
Jason Wu: I first worked with Swarovski on my Fall 2008 collection, and we’ve collaborated together many times since. As I am dedicated to making beautifully crafted clothes with a modern sophistication they lend the perfect edge to the collection.
DD: How did you explore the endless possibilities of using Swarovski in the AW 11 collection?
Jason Wu: I had the idea of creating a collection where casual met dressed up through the merging of precious materials with extremely sporty silhouettes. I did that in many ways throughout the collection-Lace trimmed cashmere sweatshirt, Lesage embroidered menswear parkas, feathered tanks. Taking the Swarovski out of their usual context was especially interesting to me.
DD: What attracted you about Robert Polidori’s photographs of the renovation of Versailles as the starting point for the A/W 11 collection?
Jason Wu: The juxtaposition between the rough undersurface revealed during the Versailles renovation and the opulence of the décor inspired the theme of contrast that runs through the photos and the A/W11 collection. I love the idea of him documenting the restoration process over a period 25 years, because to me, fashion is always a work in progress.
DD: Your aesthetic is very polished and feminine which is unusual for a young designer who is normally expected to have more edgy influences. What informs it? Who were you style icons growing up?
Jason Wu: I am often influenced by the classic photography of Richard Avedon and the works of couturiers such as Charles James and Jacques Fath. I also find inspiration on my frequent travels to Asia, Europe and Latin America as well as an eclectic array of artists including Beatriz Milhazes, Rene Gruau and Barnett Newman. Having travelled and lived in many places definitely helped me mature as a person and as a designer. My style icon growing up was definitely my mother. I remember she used to wear all these cool YSL suits in the 80’s and had a knack for putting great colors together. She was and continues to be one of my biggest sources of inspiration.
DD: You showed ‘baroque sportswear’ this season – for example embroidering lace onto gray sweatshirts. What appeals to you about this contrast?
Jason Wu: I was drawn to the idea of merging American sportswear with a couture sensibility. For fall, I wanted to create a collection that was full of luxurious flourishes but with a dressed down, lived in kind of feel. The opposition between the two ideas feels very modern to me.
DD: You’ve said in the past the story of you learning English as a kid growing up in Vancouver was how you discovered fashion – how would you describe your connection with it today?
Jason Wu: When I moved to Vancouver, I would read my mother’s fashion magazines and was so intrigued by the clothes that I looked up every article in the dictionary so that I could understand what they were about. I inadvertently picked up the English language rather fast and fell madly in love with fashion. Today, I continue to explore new ways of innovating and creating clothes that are made from the inside out. I am still learning all the time.