Jason Wu is well aware that the fashion industry is drastically different from when he started 11 years ago. He, like many of his peers — Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, Alexander Wang — in the generation of designers that buzzed in on the wave of new blood in the Aughts, has felt the retail/digital/streetwear reckoning of the last three to five years in a real way. “We’re all somewhere in the middle right now,” Wu said during an interview in his studio last month. “We’re all searching for ways to reach the next level.” He knows people are watching, wondering if and how they’re going to get there.
Wu has big plans. After he crossed his company’s 10-year anniversary mark, Wu last year started plotting, resetting, and over the past few months putting into play a strategy with many new components. In short order, Wu in June unveiled a lingerie and bodywear partnership with Real Underwear; in July he revealed a plus-size line with Eloquii; in August he launched a limited-edition scented doll with Net-a-porter, which he reported sold 300 models in 30 minutes.
Now that it’s September, more news: Wu is taking a two-season break from the runway, beginning today, when he will show a 16-look presentation in an installation — no models, just a set that focuses on clothes, his love of flowers and interiors. This marks the introduction of his new, streamlined brand structure, which will include Jason Wu Collection, the luxury designer line that will be shown today, and Jason Wu, which will replace the contemporary off-shoot Grey Jason Wu that he launched three years ago. Additionally, Wu is unveiling a new graphic, black-and-white logo designed by Fabien Baron of Baron & Baron.
There’s more: A few steps down the road is his first store, which will open in Shanghai next year. There are also plans for three to five new luxury fragrances to complement the more accessible scents he launched last year with Parlux Fragrances Inc.
And to amplify his name to an even broader audience so that can halo all these new business prongs, Wu has been filming various television projects, which he is not at liberty to disclose quite yet.
Asked what inspired him to put such an aggressive plan into action, Wu said, “Everything. Everything happened and made me reevaluate. The decline in retail. The difficulty competing with European designers. Price point, taxes, visibility, scale. All of those things. And the changing world in general. The world is changing around us yet fashion leaders, they’re not changing. It’s really ironic because fashion was always supposed to be forward and be before everything else. We were always supposed to see into the future. And all of a sudden, we weren’t seeing into the future. Everything else was going faster than us.”
In 2014 InterLuxe, the investment firm backed by Lee Equity and chaired by Gary Wassner of Hilldun, acquired a majority stake in Wu’s business. Six months ago, Paula Sutter, the former president of Diane von Furstenberg, came on as an adviser to the Jason Wu board. Wu credits Sutter as instrumental to figuring out his next steps. “I’ve known her for years,” the designer said of Sutter. “She’s formally become an adviser to the board and has really been able to think about the brand and bigger things.”
By Wu’s own admission, his company was not set up in a way to compete with the current market realities when he went into business. It’s only been in the last three years that, with the help of InterLuxe, he’s streamlined his operation and formed a more corporate structure. “For a very long time, this company was still random, like a studio,” he said. “That will never die because we’re in the creative business, but now the business has been teed up in a way that allows us to be able to do this next step.”
It’s a strategy shift. Stepping back from the runway is partly a way for Wu to telegraph his new message in a focused way, but it’s partly because he has been feeling that the chaos of New York Fashion Week isn’t serving him so well right now. “I didn’t feel like I had a really great time in February,” said Wu. “I was always very, very concerned about what other people might think if I don’t do a show… But I just want a little break while New York is figuring itself out. I want to figure myself out, too.”
The Jason Wu Collection he’s showing today will focus on craft. “I got into fashion because I love craftsmanship and beauty,” he said. “I’m obsessed with couture techniques. And I’ve been going to the Met since I was 16. I really wanted to express that idea of beautiful craftsmanship happening here in New York.”
He produces 90 percent of his designer collection in New York City. Meanwhile, the plan is to expand the contemporary line Jason Wu into a broader price range. Getting rid of the “Grey” label was done in the interest of emphasizing the Jason Wu name. “For our future expansion, it’s really important to put everything under the house of Jason Wu,” he said.
The logo was redesigned to literally embolden Wu’s branding. He described his previous logo as “a bit shy.” It was gray. The font was a thin but elegant, but it wasn’t designed with branding, which has become ever more important, in mind. The new logo is black-and-white, done in a larger, stronger font. “It’s a lot more present,” said Wu, noting that the new design could potentially be used on his clothes — logomania is not something he’s ever done but now the door is open.
To a great extent, the streamlining of the collections and the new logo are in preparation for Wu’s first store, which will house all of his labels, though they will be merchandised separately. China is an important market for him on several levels. Business-wise, it’s a retail- rather than wholesale-driven market. While he’s based in New York, he was born in Taiwan and raised in Vancouver. “I’m Chinese and there’s a huge demand for Chinese-named brands nowadays,” Wu said. “When I was growing up most people appreciated more European and American brands but as the new generation has evolved, there is a real interest in buying brands with a Chinese name.”
Wu said he has strong brand awareness in China and he has every intention of raising it even more, regionally and globally. In addition to the store, he is prepared to personally become more visible, which is where the television projects come into play. Taking the stage on that level might seem at odds with Wu’s low-key personality, but he insisted he’s ready for it. “I prefer to be behind the scenes but I have to be more forward for the brand,” he said. “Now that I’m more comfortable in my own brand, I want to do it all.”