Carolyn Murphy opened Jason Wu’s spring show, all piercing blue eyes, slicked-back blonde hair and buff, bronzed limbs. Dressed in a croc-embossed leather sheath — short and tight with a sheer panel that revealed a corset construction — and a pair of pumps, she could have walked out of a Helmut Newton photograph. Seldom cryptic in his references, Wu did indeed invoke Newton as his primary inspiration, cross-pollinated with nods to Lillian Bassman.
Anytime a show opens with a vintage model, there’s a statement; in this case, the designer flagged his deliberate move in a more womanly direction. With the launch of his contemporary collection Miss Wu, he now has a separate outlet for his young, playful side. Still, riffing on the hyper-specific, sexually charged stylings of Newton was risky. The S&M aesthetic is way outside Wu’s comfort zone, which skewed decidedly ladylike and romantic. In fact, until now, the squeaky-clean, baby-faced Wu had offered scant indication that he has a naughty side. Consider spring his season of innocence lost, in a way that wouldn’t embarrass his mother.
That said, it wouldn’t make the point without leather and lace, and Wu worked those quintessentials of sexy clothes with deft audacity. A point d’esprit bra — he collaborated with La Perla on the innerwear pieces — topped a short flounced leather skirt with laser-cut embroidery; a sleeveless white blouse with black lace inserts went with leather shorts. Yet rather than pursue raw sexuality, Wu wisely softened the look to a point that usually worked within his domain. The results ranged from suggestive polish, as in lace blouses with cigarette trousers, to overt provocation as in sheer and severe sheaths. Yet the lineup was not without its awkward moments. The Newton fashion waters are well-tested, and at times, the motif wore thin, especially when add-on harnesses looked more gimmicky than essential. For evening, the drama crescendoed in new-looking ballgowns: lavishly embroidered tulle beauties suspended from strappy, bondage yokes.
The display of Wu’s increasingly adult attitude didn’t end with his clothes. His business is growing up, too, as indicated by his ramped-up focus on accessories. Round hatbox bags and travel cases were chic and sophisticated in leather and lace treatments. And the pumps — some with thick, pearl-studded ankle straps and crystal heels — will thrill proper ladies with a subversive streak.