From Dolls to Dresses

Jason Wu is no fashion novice, although he comes to the business from an unusual angle.

NEW YORK — Jason Wu is no fashion novice, although he comes to the business from an unusual angle.

The 23-year-old designer, who plans to inaugurate his collection with a runway show in February, is also the creative director and a partner at Integrity Toys Inc., where he develops high-fashion dolls and oversees everything from the dolls’ hair and makeup to their accessories and clothes.

“Nobody has ever worked backward like me,” Wu said. “They usually dress dolls after they become fashion designers.”

Wu said he gathered much fashion experience making dolls. For instance, he recently designed a limited-edition doll based on RuPaul, with a flamingo gown, a red vinyl corset suit or shredded jeans with a black mesh, leather and tulle corset. His next project is a doll in the likeness of transsexual Amanda Lepore, replete with Heatherette and David Barton clothes, Nars cosmetics and even a dab of her signature scent.

Born in Taiwan, Wu arrived in the U.S. at the age of 13. By high school, he was eager to get into the fashion world, but had to figure out a way to go about it. As a child, Wu used to play with dolls, dressing them and even designing his own as a hobby. So when the chance to submit freelance doll designs for Integrity came his way at age 16, he immediately took it. Wu continued working at Integrity while studying fashion at Parsons School of Design, and eventually was made creative director and a partner at the toy firm.

“I didn’t know doing dolls was going to become a career,” Wu admitted. “If I hadn’t done it then, I probably would have started in fashion earlier, but I don’t think the collection would have been as mature.”

Indeed, his real fashion is far less outrageous than that gracing his dolls. He cited vintage magazines and clothes as well as the work of fashion illustrator René Gruau as his key inspirations.

His capsule spring collection focused mostly on eveningwear, including a silk satin strapless cocktail dress; a corseted dress with a crinoline petticoat; a silk satin dress with a Chantilly lace and tulle overlay, and a satin and tulle bustier. For fall, he plans to add more sportswear pieces to the collection.

This story first appeared in the December 6, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Dolls, he explained, have helped him hone his fashion craft. “It’s all about construction and very precise detail,” he said of doll-dressing. “It’s almost as if I have been training garment construction in a miniature form. That really made me focus on getting the small details right when it comes to making real clothes.”

It’s hardly surprising if Wu’s sense of aesthetic seems slightly reminiscent of Narciso Rodriguez’s. The designer interned for Rodriguez for two seasons and credits him as a role model, both creatively as well as business-wise. “Narciso has definitely been one of my influences,” he said. “It’s simple, but not simple. You have to pay close attention to how it’s made.”

Wu’s collection targets upscale specialty stores. Wholesale price points range from about $1,500 to $5,000, with the average in the region of $2,000. Wu anticipates wholesale sales of $450,000 in the first year.

Even though he now has set his eyes on making a mark with clothes for real women rather than plastic miniatures, Wu doesn’t plan to turn his back on the doll industry. “Through that job, I am able to finance my own collection,” he said.