Everyone knows Michelle Obama helped put Jason Wu on the map. But the subsequent publicity blitzkrieg couldn’t have come at a more apropos time. Wu was already riding a high from a previous (self-dubbed “breakthrough”) spring 2009 show, which saw a $1.2 million jump in sales. “We were ready for that next area of expansion,” Wu, 27, remarks.
And expand he has. Of all the designers in the Obama fashion tribe, Wu has taken most obvious advantage of his fortuitous moments in the spotlight. In the past year, the Taiwanese designer launched a pre-fall collection, sales of which are already 45 percent over initial projections; sunglasses, with Modo Eyewear; his own GE digital camera, licensed by General Imaging; a capsule collection with Tse Cashmere, and has plans to enter the footwear market by 2011. He will also debut a collection of dolls for Madame Alexander this fall (in addition to his ongoing role as creative director of Integrity Toys). But perhaps the greatest example of Wu’s steroidal growth is the recent relocation of his offices from cramped quarters on 37th Street to a studio more than four times the size: a sprawling 9,000 square feet. WWD got an exclusive first look at the finished premises.
Situated on 35th Street in the old Mary McFadden building, the offices are in the heart of the Garment District. “Being here was important,” says Wu. “I considered going downtown and to Chelsea, but I produce so much here, I didn’t want to waste hours going up and down [the city].” Wu calls attention to the internal warehouse in the rear of his space. “The other route was to have a warehouse outside of New York,” he says. “But I like to be specific about the way we ship. Now, everything is controlled and managed in one place.”
The rest of the floor is fairly open, with wide, mirrored portals throughout so employees can quickly wend their way from one area to the next. “We wanted to create an open office,” explains architect Giancarlo Valle, who worked on Phillip Lim’s Los Angeles boutique and created the runway sets for Wu’s spring and fall 2009 shows, “so you always felt like you were part of a larger space.” Even the use of mirrors caters to this notion. “The idea here is that you can be visually connected to a space without being physically connected,” Valle adds. Meanwhile, the long stretch in the middle, which runs virtually from one side of the building to the other, can accommodate intimate runway presentations for his resort or pre-fall collections. Off-season, the area houses the sales showroom, which is lined with adjustable hanging racks.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the space is Wu’s private office, separated from the rest of the studio by massive 19th-century wooden doors sourced from upstate New York. “Originally, we were going to have a glass door here,” says interior decorator Jesse Carrier. “But this gives it that ‘Wizard of Oz’ feeling when you open the doors.” And, indeed, step beyond the gray lacquered doors and there’s another world, one bathed in a warm, salmon-hued glow from collaged wallpaper, custom designed by Elizabeth Dow from old issues of The New York Observer. It’s a stark contrast to the more minimal, industrial scene outside. In the corner is Joel Grey, in an ad from “Cabaret.” Over there, crossword puzzles, and further still, smiling real estate maven Barbara Corcoran and a dancing Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.
“There’s so much press and buzz around Jason,” says Carrier. “This creates a spirit of media here without having any of those self-promotional photographs or press clippings.” Adding an extra arty element: a giant Otto Zitko scribble painting in black; illustrations by René Gruau (a longtime favorite of Wu’s) and Thomas Libetti, and photographs from Christoph Morlinghaus and Sam Frost. A hefty wooden slab table stands front and center; it’s the only relic from Wu’s old office. “I had to bring my lucky table,” Wu remarks.
A more traditional white-walled office is tucked in the back. It’s a small, tidy nook with shelves and a desk. “Jason doesn’t sit still for a minute,” says Carrier. “So the idea of having a big office would have been a waste. It made more sense to have a little space where he could check e-mails and make a quiet phone call.” There is a thick gray flannel curtain dividing this area from the main New York Observer-decorated room.
“I wanted this space to reflect the company,” explains the increasingly brand-savvy Wu, “that double element of old and new.” And this point-counterpoint of the traditional and modern pops up everywhere — cast metal tables with curvy Old English legs; a vintage mirror alongside fluorescent color-blocked paintings by street artist A.S.V.P. Even his frequent use of charcoal gray, whether in that separating curtain, the lacquered 19th-century doors or on the showroom walls, is a reference to the past. “One of my favorite things,” says Wu, “is Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel perfume. I always thought the packaging, this gray flannel drawstring bag, was just the chicest.”
On pre-fall: “The collection was inspired by air travel. I’ve been traveling so much that it got me thinking about aviation and Sixties and Seventies stewardesses. I’ve always loved the way they dress. I also wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone — there’s more structure and a toughness here.”
On sunglasses: “There are four styles: the Mia, which is very Sixties looking; the Jett, an Eighties, Wayfarer style; the Earhart, my version of the aviator, and the Seberg [pictured here, $275], which is my take on the cat eye with a metal brow on top. Jean Seberg has actually been my invisible muse for the longest time.”
On his GE digital camera: “I thought, ‘How do I put my signature on something unexpected?’ I created a feminine version [of the camera], with slightly rounded sides, so it looks like a clutch. [This design, priced at $495] has a fabric print on matte black steel.”
On Madame Alexander: “I did two collections of three dolls. One series is slightly futuristic-looking and the other is very Dovima-like. NEOCissy [pictured here] is the former. I called her that because Cissy is the name of a classic Madame Alexander doll that’s been around for decades. She was static before. I added all these joints so she moves. I wanted her to do all these crazy poses. The neon shoes, the funny houndstooth [hat] — I really wanted to do something that’s completely out of character for something so traditional. I also gave her no eyebrows.”
On Tse Cashmere: “The inspiration was about artist Robert Ryman as well as Geoffrey Beene and his controlled femininity. This was one of the preliminary sketches. I wound up rendering [fox fur] in these loopy, metallic-yarn knits. It’s almost like a thesis. How do you showcase the material in different ways in one collection? This Tse collaboration has really been about expanding my horizons and bringing my aesthetic to a brand that’s very different from my own. It’s been a really interesting exercise.”
London’s newly opened @designmuseum will look back on the life and work of Azzedine Alaïa in a show that the designer helped to curate before he died of heart failure last month. The retrospective, which Alaïa had worked on with Mark Wilson, chief curator of the @groningermuseum, will look at the impact of his work worldwide. The show, “Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier,” will run from May 10 to October 7. Read more about the exhibit on WWD.com #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @zefashioninsider)
@Pharrell and his wife Helen Lasichanh were among the stars that came out to celebrate @rimowa’s first pop-up concept shop. The space, which is located on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, draws inspiration from airport luggage carousels and lounge areas – and features the company’s luggage and accessories. If the pop-up is successful it could pave the way for addition temporary shops throughout the world. #wwdfashion (📷: Owen Kolasinski/BFA)
@carineroitfeld celebrated @crfashionbook’s first calendar last night with a dinner party at Spring Place in Manhattan. Photographed by @stevenkleinstudio, the calendar takes on a fitness theme and features @joansmalls, @gigihadid, @danielle_herrington_ – pictured here – and more. “[Carine Roitfeld] wanted me to feel sexy and she wanted me to be myself and feel it out on my own and do what I felt was right,” said Herrington, aka Miss October. #wwdeye
@saintrecords and @virgilabloh last night at @americanexpress’ “A Night With Success Makers” event. “I always bring it back to community because without that I wouldn’t have the courage,” said Knowles when asked how she has gotten where she is now. Read more highlights from their conversation on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @lizdoupnik)
This Just In: Industry sources have told WWD that Anastasia Soare is rumored to be considering selling her beauty business, @anastasiabeverlyhills. According to those sources, Soare has tapped investment bank Imperial Capital to explore sale options for her eponymous beauty brand –– and with at least $340 million in net sales, this would be a big deal. Put in context of other recent transactions for makeup companies, Soare’s price tag could be in the billions if she were to sell the whole thing. #wwdnews #wwdbeauty (📷: @clint_spaulding)
@assouline’s latest book, “The Spirit of Bentley: Be Extraordinary” captures the adventurous attitudes and opulent lifestyles of @bentleymotors’ most creative owners and enthusiasts throughout the U.K. The 292-page hardcover has a section dedicated to showing its team of skilled artisans and photos of its most colorful owners, from George Bamford to designer @alicetemperley, pictured here by Aline Coquelle. #wwdeye
@google released its report on the most popular search terms this year. For fashion brands, the list was led by @gucci, the luxury brand that stunned the market last October when it pledged to stop using fur. Runner ups were @supremenewyork and @fashionnova, along with more established brands like @louisvuitton, @chanelofficial and @ysl. #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
In yet another fashion show shuffle, @elleryland is moving its show in sync with the Paris couture calendar — though the brand is still keeping one foot on the city’s ready-to-wear schedule. Their runway show in January will coincide with the launch of a new strategy: designing two main collections each year instead of four, which will then be released in four drops. “As we all know, the system needs to change. We need to show sooner to give time back to artisans and designers to do what they do best — create,” said founder Kym Ellery. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
@maxmara’s classic 101801 coat was the cornerstone of its pre-fall 2018 collection. The design team expanded the traditional double-breasted, kimono-sleeved style into a trapeze coat, lean belted styles and a peacoat and presented them in monochromatic looks – like the camel one pictured here. #wwdfashion #prefall18 (📷: George Chinsee)