Jason Wu was thrown into the public spotlight the moment America’s newest first lady wore one of his creations to her husband’s 2009 inauguration ball. The one-shouldered, ivory, silk chiffon gown is now in the Smithsonian. This week’s Talk Asia follows the young designer from his New York design studio to Taiwan, on his first visit home since hitting the big time.
CNN’s Talk Asia with Jason Wu airs* on December 22, Wednesday at 1800, December 26, Sunday at 1500 and December 27, Monday at 0830.
Michelle Obama’s choice of gown made Jason Wu an overnight success – a label that doesn’t sit well with the Asian-American designer. “Fashion doesn’t come overnight,” and adds, “I’ve been working at this my entire life, and in fact my business did not start the night before the inauguration.”
Wu, amongst other designers, was approached by the First Lady’s unofficial stylist Ikram Goldman to design a dress for the event. After working on the dress for two months, Wu packed his bags and
hand-delivered it to Chicago. “I didn’t want to take
any chances and send the dress by Fedex,” he says. Wu had no idea that his gown was chosen until he saw the First Lady on TV. “I was like, I know that gown and then it set in. I just cried for half an hour. It was quite emotional,” he says.
The 27-year old instantly became a household name and was even spotted by a truck driver on the street. “He rolled up his window and said ‘aren’t you that guy who designed the First Lady’s dress?’ And I was like ‘wow, a trucker knows who I am.”
Michelle Obama has also donned Wu’s designs on other occasions, including a magenta dress for the front cover of Vogue magazine and a black satin coat when meeting with Queen Elizabeth. Having met the First Lady in person, Wu says that her definition of style is very personal to her: “I know some outfits have sparked some debate, mine or not mine. But it’s her taste,” he says.
Wu recalls the difficulties in adapting when he moved from Taiwan to Canada at the age of nine: “I went from sitting in these rigid chairs to sitting on the floor. That was a whole different experience, a different way of looking at things. I think that was very important and one of the main purposes my parents immigrated myself and my brother to Canada was to see more in life.”
From painting and drawing to sculpting, Wu says that he always had a knack for creating. He later won a coveted place in the prestigious Parsons School for Design in New York, but dropped out before graduating. “At the time I thought I knew everything but really I didn’t know anything. I just wanted to get my hands dirty and start working.”
He set up his own company from his living room and put together his first collection with just ten dresses. Today Wu’s label has grown hugely but he still gets involved in every decision, from production and finance to PR and sales. “I don’t think a person can be a successful designer just being a great designer, you’ve got to know a little more than that.”
Wu is now producing four seasons a year and has just launched his own accessories line. As for his advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps? “That really is a lot of pressure. It’s not for the faint hearted to be a fashion designer.”