The Wu Factor
Creativity and business savvy have propelled Jason Wu to the top of his game, inspiring the next generation of fashion superstars to dream big. By Dan Ahwa
Judging other designers doesn't come naturally to Jason Wu. "I would say I've been on the other side of the seat so many times in my career" says the 33 year old. "I almost feel inadequate to be judging other designers. I'm still not where I want to be in my own career!" Despite this humble proclamation, his serene nature, measured voice and steely gaze makes him the perfect moderator, a rarity in an industry so often associated with flustered creative types. Better known for designing Michelle Obama's floor length silk chiffon inauguration gown in 2008, his dresses are familiar red carpet fixtures, counting celebrities such as Diane Krueger, Michelle Williams and Emily Ratajkowski as friends and clients.
He's in Sydney as the International Guest Judge for the Australia and New Zealand International Woolmark Prize announcement, a prize awarded alongside six other regions including the British Isles, Asia, Europe, India, Pakistan and the Middle East and USA, all judged by industry heavyweights including former editor-at-large of American Vogue, Andre Leon Talley and editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, Franca Sozzani.
The International Woolmark Prize has propelled the careers of many designers over the years with the basis of using and promoting Australian Merino wool. Its rich alumni of past winners include Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld along with more recent winners such as Christian Wijnants and Dion Lee. Each regional designer is required to present one outfit each, with the winner from each region gaining prize money to produce a six piece collection that ultimately ll compete in the prestigious international finals next January in Paris. The overall prizes given to Sydney based womenswear label Macgraw, designed by sisters Beth and Tessa Mcagraw and menswear label Ex Finitas designed by Lukas Vincent.
Such major exposure for a burgeoning brand looking to make it big is no small feat; after all, it requires extra time, effort and resources on top of their regular workload, and presented to an intimidating judging panel of some of the world’s best industry figures. Jason's presence rounds out an impressive judging panel for the AUS/NZ regionals including London based designer Richard Nicholl (who closed his eponymous label in 2015 to concentrate on freelance opportunities), general manager for David Jones womenswear Damien Burke, fashion writer Mitchell Oakey Smith and editor-in-chief of Harpers Bazaar Australia, Kellie Hush, the latter presenting the awards alongside Jason in Sydney last week. This year's event is of particular significance, the first time in the prizes' history to open up entry to New Zealand designers, this year’s Kiwi debutantes Wellington based Lucilla Gray and Auckland based labels Harman Grubisa and Georgia Alice each showcasing strong entries. Considering limited number of design awards available in New Zealand now, the opportunity for local talent to compete on an international scale provides immeasurable opportunities.
For Jason, the future looks bright. “To see the young designers display an encouraging ability, not only interacting with beautiful clothes, but also selling it as a business- that was really a highlight for me. They’ve worked hard to get to where they are in such a short amount of time.” His own career trajectory is inspiring. In 2001 he attended the prestigious Parson’s School of Design, before leaving in 2004 to intern with Narciso Rodriquez.
In 2006, Jason used the savings from his time designing doll fashion and accessories to fund the launch of his own label, a go to label for a certain polished Park Avenue set who love his slick tailoring and event gowns. The label is typically all American in its design formula, carefully balancing glamour with pragmatism. Collections less about a mood, but more about keeping in sync with his client’s desires- think chiffon in May and vacation wear for November. He continues to keep busy as the artistic director for German stalwart Hugo Boss, known for its clean cut aesthetic and in April, launched the Jason Wu Grey diffusion line, a collection of sporty casual separates. In that same month, he wed long term partner Gustavo Rangel (also CFO of the Jason Wu brand), in Tulum Mexico. It’s a relentlessly paced world that Jason lives, but it seems he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don't sleep, but I do love a good spa!" he laughs. "I've always been a big multi tasker. I sell myself better when I'm fully occupied. The most important thing for me is organisation and having great teams around me, because without them it would be impossible to do what I do. My mother always said to me 'never stop being a student' meaning, don't think you're a know it all. The best way to continuously be inspired is to go into any situation thinking you don't know anything.”