Lessons From Dressing Michelle Obama

Jason Wu Learns From His Sudden Fame Moment, Reinvents Himself for the Long Haul

BY // 02.22.19
photography Alessandro Garofalo

NEW YORK — Having experienced major success as the designer of Michelle Obama’s two inaugural gowns, Jason Wu is reinventing himself for current times.

Like a crop of young designers, including Zac Posen, Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler, who experienced a burst of early fame and then leveled off as the fickle fashion press moved on to the next big thing, Wu is looking to shake things up with a fresh new start. He has rebranded his lower price contemporary collection (simply calling it Jason Wu) and introduced a new fragrance, Velvet Rouge.

He’s also raising his profile as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race and the subject of a commercial for JP Morgan Chase, in which he pays his neighbor for cat-sitting via a mobile banking app while simultaneously putting on a New York Fashion Week show.

“When you dress very, very prominent women, it does give people the false impression that you’ve already made it,” Wu told the Wall Street Journal. “A dress is a dress, but without a business and without a whole structure, and without working smartly and being relevant as a business and as a designer, the moment is just that. It’s a moment.”

Rather than stage a big runway show at the New York Fashion Week, Wu opted for a more intimate gathering, just as he did last season. He created a pop-up space in an artist loft, with one room devoted to his new fragrance before leading guests through a maze-like corridor into a large open room highlighting his luxe collection of 18 gowns and dresses for fall.

Rather than use live models, he styled the looks on headless mannequins scattered throughout the space to give the presentation more of art gallery feeling.

The new fragrance, which retails for $128 for a 3-ounce bottle, was the inspiration for his more upscale Jason Wu Collection and the setting. Created in a partnership with master perfumer Frank Voelkl, the fragrance emphasizes the scent of cabbage rose, along with jasmine, magnolia, and peony.

Floral arrangements from the New York florist Putnam & Putnam decorated the gallery-like space and emphasized the petal-like construction of several of Wu’s designs.

The collection combines the 36-year-old designer’s love of romantic silhouettes with edgier touches like unfinished edges and deconstructed ruffles. With the perfume as inspiration, Wu created several dresses in a floral print pattern and wispy gowns in rose red fabric, with gathered ruffles at the neck and waist to resemble layered 3-dimensional flowers. The collection will be available in Houston at Elizabeth Anthony.

Houstonians will also get a chance to see the collection up close at the 20th Annual “Spirit of Spring” Luncheon and Fashion Show, benefitting the Children’s Assessment Center,  on April 25 at  The Post Oak Hotel. Wu will make a special appearance, along with Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, at the luncheon and will unveil several new pieces.

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