Tonight, Act.1 designer Sally Wu will take over the New York outpost of Arario Gallery for her latest runway outing. Expect Honduran drummers providing the live sound track, perhaps some dancers opening the show, and architect Richard Meier and his New York staff sitting on the sidelines as guests. But the oddest detail of all: the Shanghai-born, Manhattan-based designer will be presenting her spring collection. That’s right, spring — more than a month after the last show in Paris and long after everyone’s jet lag has settled.
Wu, who’s in her second season, admits she initially planned on showing during New York Fashion Week, but realized it was too crowded. “Who’s going to look at a new designer then?” she asks. “The schedule did not look promising.” So she opted for a mid-October date, when editors and buyers would be back in the city for market appointments. “But then,” she continues, “things got pushed back and back….”
It’s not just a hectic fashion schedule that has Wu, who’s also launching accessories for spring, overbooked. She opened her own restaurant, Ten Ten, with chef Josh Eden (of Shorty’s .32 and JoJo fame) last week; is currently co-curating an exhibit at the Beijing Center for the Arts, “ShanShui 2010: H2O,” which opens on Nov. 20, and is helping to organize the inaugural conference for the nonprofit Asia Design Forum, headed by Clifford Pearson of Architectural Record magazine, in Singapore this December. “You know, a lot of people say that you can only do one thing in life,” says Wu. “But for me, no, you can do many things in life, as long as you have the passion for it.”
So she has the passion. But also in Wu’s favor is her knack for social networking; she is an acquaintance of a whole constellation of figures, from chefs (Jean-Georges Vongerichten) to contemporary artists (Ai Jing) to architects (Meier). It’s a web of high-powered contacts she’d rather glide over, though. “Please don’t put the names down,” she asks later. “It sounds like I’m name-dropping.” To Wu, these extracurriculars are pretty straightforward. “I love to eat” is her matter-of-fact response when asked about Ten Ten, a casual eatery near The School of Visual Arts that homes in on Asian comfort food — string bean salads with tiny flecks of fried garlic; pork belly buns, and sweet Vietnamese coffee milkshakes.
As for the art interest, that’s easier to pin down — Wu grew up studying calligraphy painting in her native China. In fact, she says her pursuit of fashion sprung from the desire to mix art with something her parents would consider more commercial. “Fashion was the middle ground,” explains Wu, who’s worked at Ann Taylor, Polo Ralph Lauren, Karl Lagerfeld and Helmut Lang. “Instead of going for art, it was easier to tell my parents that I’m doing something that’s a real job.”
Although she keeps her culinary exploits separate from her collection — the one exception: Ten Ten will be catering the show tonight — Wu is unabashed about the art hook to Act.1, which is partly backed by art collector (and Beastie Boy mom) Hester Diamond. She credits the overall minimalist sensibility to her calligraphy background, for instance. “You just use black ink and rice paper — very simple and clean,” Wu explains. “To design something with clutter is very easy — you just put everything on. What speaks to me more is simplicity that can still make a statement.” The spring collection, priced from $58 to $172, wholesale, and available at Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong, is similarly restrained, whether it’s the simple ribbed sheath or the skirt with slight slashes on the side. Her new costume jewelry line, however, is where Wu lets loose. “This is my alter ego,” she says of the crafty, mixed-media designs. “The collection is festive and bold.”
Perhaps the most obvious example of Act.1’s fashion-art crossover is the December T-shirt collection with artist Holly Zausner, known for her complex photo collages and squishy, long-limbed sculptures. Rather than slapping her images on Wu’s garments, Zausner is making the project interactive. Once customers buy the T-shirt, which features the phrase “What happens now/What happens next/What happens…,” they can register on the act1nyc.com Web site and complete the sentence. “Holly will get online and reply to them individually,” Wu explains, “so people can have a conversation with an artist. It will be a live piece of art.” It’s the first of what Wu hopes to be many collaborations. “I want this [label] to be a platform to work with people in different fields,” she adds. “That’s why I named this Act.1 — right now, it’s only the first act.”