There was no gong, but between the drums on the sound track and the Forbidden City doors that opened the runway, no one was left guessing at Jason Wu’s fall theme. “An Asian person doing an Asian collection. It’s a revolution,” cracked Wu at a preview the day before his show, noting that he did not decide to go there thematically because — news flash — China is booming. “It’s been booming for a long time,” said the designer, who lived in Taiwan until age nine and went back a year ago for the first time since starting his business.
In all seriousness, tackling Asia was a risk. Wu broke his heritage into three parts — Mao military, Qing dynasty and the Forties Hollywood glamour of “Shanghai Express” — shown in consecutive order with a through-line of sleekly tailored strength. If not handled carefully such archetypes can quickly morph into their down-market relative, otherwise known as a cliché. Wu handled all with calculated polish and savvy commerciality. Any costume-y flourishes were intentional, i.e. the fringed hat topped with a pearl ornament. Other than that, this was Wu’s most severe and sophisticated work yet. A belted, army green puffy jacket was quilted at the shoulders with a black lace overlay everywhere else except the big military pockets. Opulent embroideries, fur sleeves and collars infused the sharp tailoring with a regal air. Variations on the cheongsam dress, which is particularly prime for parody, were beautiful precision-cut sheaths, some with alluring keyhole necklines, others with lavish embroideries. For evening, Wu recharged a Golden Age glamour silhouette with a strong shoulder, high neck and lean skirt that draped around the body with a dramatic slit. It looked great in silk devoré velvet.
Asked if this was his most elaborate collection to date, Wu replied, “It’s my most luxurious.” Working on his Target collection, in stores now, gave him a new respect for what he considers true luxury. So he pushed himself with the fit, the tailoring and the little things. Details, like the sheared mink worked into embroideries, the technical, thermal lining in the jackets and the brocade detail under the toe of a peep-toe pump, were impossible to appreciate as models flew by.