His star was already rising, but things got major for Jason Wu when Michelle Obama wore his stunning white one-shoulder dress at the 2009 Inaugural Ball.
This was the start of a successful career that saw not only Obama wearing his clothes but many other influential women like the Duchess of Sussex, Julianne Moore, Diane Kruger, and Kerry Washington.
During the past decade, Wu served five years as Artistic Director of German fashion house Hugo Boss, collaborated with Target, and even launched his first fragrance — all while designing for his two eponymous labels.
In town to be honored with the Presidents’ Circle Honors Award from the Chicago History Museum’s Costume Council, we chatted with Wu about his design philosophy, those who inspire him, and how the standards of beauty have changed.
We heard you took a tour of the Costume Council Collection at the Chicago History Museum. Most people don’t know it’s one of the largest costume collections in the world. What did you think?
It’s always important to look at fashion history and study the clothes. I believe you can’t create the future without knowing the past.
Viewing garments like a 1800s embroidered coat or 1950s Dior dress in person, allows you to see the construction, the texture, the fabric – you end up appreciating them in a whole different way. Their timeless quality is what I love most, it’s the bases of my own design philosophy. I strive to make timeless clothes, something that’s more than a passing trend.
Christian Lacroix is one of my favorite designers who I feel is under-appreciated by today’s generation. He’s one of the most sensational designers that ever was… a true dreamer, and these days there aren’t many moments to dream. For me, his quintessential ‘80s floral poof dress with a bustle was the standout piece.
Earlier this month you launched a limited-edition holiday capsule collection with the plus-size store Eloquii. What inspired you to collaborate with them?
For so long we had a too narrow standard of beauty, but that has dramatically shifted as our aesthetics have changed. We are now talking about gender identity and diversity – we are finally embracing beauty in all forms in a real way.
So when Eloquii approached me to do a collection that embraces all sizes and all shapes, I was very excited. It’s something that feels modern, and it’s time to move things in a new direction.
Also with their affordable price point, $95 to $230, it’s making my work accessible to a broader audience.
What was the inspiration behind the Eloquii collection?
A lot of it came from the 1950s, which is my favorite era in fashion along with the ‘40s. It was really about celebrating curvaceous women that were super feminine and had an air of glamour like Raquel Welch, Sophia Loren, and Marilyn Monroe. You have to embrace the body instead of covering it, which is something that doesn’t always happen with plus size.
You have worked with so many incredible women. Who’s been your favorite to collaborate with?
Diane Kruger. She is one of my closest friends and longtime collaborator, and working with her feels effortless. I think she has the most impeccable taste and style.
We hear you are launching a second fragrance early next year. How involved were you in creating the scent, and are there similarities with your first one?
I’m super involved in every aspect because scents are a personal thing and it has to be an authentic reflection of your sensibility and style. It may be one of the most personal ways of sharing your aesthetic with people.
It’s not like a fashion collection where you have a wide selection of options, catering to different kinds of women. With the launch of a new fragrance, there is only one. There is something very singular, something very decisive about it, knowing that it’s not going to be for everyone.
My new fragrance is very different from the first, which is very light, dewy, and inspired by jasmine, the flower I grew up with. The second one is going to be opposite, much darker and sexier.
You’ve been to Chicago before. How does it compare to other cities?
I love Chicago. I think it’s a great city with so much to do and so many amazing restaurants like Blackbird, my personal favorite.
There is also something very serene about it… doesn’t feel so hectic. It’s very relaxing to come here,. It’s still a big city but it doesn’t feel as tense as a lot of other big cities.
story by Jessica Mouzami / photo by Mila Samokhina