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BERLIN — Hugo Boss is banking on Jason Wu to give its women’s business a jolt.
This story first appeared in the June 11, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The German fashion powerhouse, one of the largest in Europe, on Monday named Wu its new artistic director of women’s wear. The designer’s influence on the first Boss women’s collection will make its debut in New York during pre-fall 2014. Wu will stage the collaboration’s first runway show in February during New York Fashion Week.
While the 30-year-old New Yorker currently sells a diffusion line exclusively at Nordstrom and he once teamed up with Target, the Hugo Boss collaboration represents a far greater scope than any of his previous alliances.
His appointment comes on the heels of a few challenges. Last month Hugo Boss executives noted that challenging economic conditions and a shift in the timing of wholesale deliveries negatively impacted first-quarter profits and sales. Net earnings declined 14 percent, to 82 million euros, or $108.3 million, and earnings before interest and taxes fell to 111.4 million euros, or $147.1 million. Group sales slipped 2 percent, reaching 593.5 million euros, or $783.9 million. Comp-store sales rose 2 percent on a currency-adjusted basis. The Boss retail network expanded by 36 doors to 876 in the period, and Boss plans to open a total of 50 stores this year. The company nonetheless reaffirmed its growth forecast for the full year. Currency-adjusted sales and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization before special items are expected to rise at high-single-digit rates.
Wu was already talking up the brand Monday. “I have long been a fan of Hugo Boss’ vast tradition and lineage in extraordinary tailoring. With the state-of-the-art facilities that are unique to the Hugo Boss design labs, I plan to develop a strong, feminine women’s wear collection that reciprocates the brand’s authority in men’s wear,” he said.
In his role as artistic director, Wu will oversee the team at Boss headquarters in Metzingen, Germany, as well as a New York design studio that is being formed, according to Gerd von Podewils, senior vice president, global communication. The designer will assume responsibility and creative direction for all products and images related to Boss Womenswear, which include ready-to-wear and accessories in the Hugo Boss Group.
Hugo Boss chief executive officer Claus-Dietrich Lahrs said, “We are absolutely delighted to have an outstanding talent like Jason Wu on board. This will generate a powerful and creative statement for Boss Womenswear and shows our commitment to focus even more on the female side of the brand.”
Boss has a strong reputation in men’s wear, yet there remains significant potential with women by showing the feminine, sensual yet assertive side of the brand, von Podewils said.
Wu’s appointment comes as the designer continues to expand his own business slowly but steadily. In January, the Miss Wu contemporary label was unveiled at Nordstrom, where it will be sold exclusively through the end of this year. In 2014, Wu plans to add accessories and expand the collection to wholesale domestically and globally.
In 2011 the Jason Wu for Target label was introduced as a stand-alone designer collection and not one that was part of Go International. “Target was really different, because it was a flash,” the designer once told WWD, adding that Miss Wu was already in the works then. Target “still gave me the assurance that there was a demand for Jason Wu at a different price point. The success of it was really encouraging as we were starting Miss Wu,” he said.
In November, Wu took the bag trend in a different direction, introducing a signature getaway bag for St. Regis Hotels & Resorts. More recently, the designer teamed up with the artist Nate Lowman to create a limited-edition T-shirt that is being sold on his Web site to benefit the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America foundation.
Earlier this year, he touched down in Paris for meetings with another collaborator, the L’Oréal-owned Lancôme. While in town, Wu was honored by the multibrand boutique Montaigne Market, and for the first time he attended another label’s fashion show — Chanel. Wu said at that time, “If there is a show to go to, then it has to be Chanel. The scale of it all, the intensity and the energy were so great. It also gives a young designer like me something to look up to. That’s the goal, to be as good as what [Karl Lagerfeld] does.”
Such alliances have helped the Taiwanese-born Wu boost his name recognition since launching his first collection in 2008. After starting out designing dolls, Wu moved into fashion after studying at Parsons the New School for Design and interning at Narciso Rodriguez. At the 2009 Inaugural Ball, First Lady Michelle Obama pretty much made Wu a household name by wearing one of his gowns (and then repeated the favor at President Obama’s second inaugural in January of this year).
Linked as his fame is to the First Lady, the designer’s reach is far more varied. Allison Williams, Stephanie Seymour, Jaime King and Elettra Wiedemann were among the front-row guests at his February runway show. When Wu was honored by the Asia Society in March, he arrived with a foursome that was not to be overlooked — Martha Hunt, Hilary Rhoda, Shu Pei and Liya Kebede each wore one of his designs.
In recent months, Wu has been vocal about his desire to redefine his uptown, polished look in a sexier, edgier context. Sex appeal has been the guiding principle for his spring, pre-fall and fall collections, even though he referred to the latter as “Extreme Femininity.” Before his February show, he said he “wanted to loop back to what I started on, the very thing I do, which is beautiful, very feminine clothes.”
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Like Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, the Olsen sisters and his other contemporaries, Wu is going after accessories in a major way. As of Monday, visitors to his Web site’s homepage were greeted with an oversize image of the new $2,195 Jourdan bag. The Daphne, one of three bags featured on the homepage, sells for $2,595.