“Everyone was really decked out! Did you see the men at the IT conference next door in their blue blazers and khaki pants? Quite the contrast,” says designer Jason Wu, smiling as he reflects on the sight of Houston’s most fashionable ladies—all 700 of them—gathering in Hilton Americas’ largest ballroom to celebrate the city’s Best Dressed honorees and view his 2015 Fall/Winter collection.
Indeed, attendees are always decked out at the Best Dressed luncheon, benefiting the March of Dimes, one of the year’s most see-and-be-seen events. In years past the fundraiser has welcomed such famed designers as Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Rucci and Peter Dundas of Pucci, and this spring’s big event saw the sophisticated styles of Jason Wu strut down the runway. We sat down with the designer the day after the luncheon to discuss his creative process and inspiration, plus future plans and thoughts on Houston.
Houstonia: You’re originally from Taiwan; you’ve since lived in Canada, Connecticut, France and Japan and now you live in NYC and travel monthly to Germany for work with Hugo Boss. In all of your travels, have you ever seen a site like yesterday’s luncheon with over 700 women dressed to the nines while cheering for their friends and simultaneously raising half a million dollars in one day?
Jason Wu: [Laughing] I have to say it was great to see that women came to the luncheon really dressed. The event was clearly a celebration of powerful, extraordinary ladies who do a lot for the community but it was also very fun and lively. Houston has a lot of heart and the luncheon was a great representation of that warm attitude. And I loved how dressed up everyone got. I saw some seriously stunning looks yesterday!
Have you had a chance to see much of the city while here?
Yes, I’ve seen some wonderful parts of Houston. Such sophistication and style—the Rothko Chapel, the Museum District. I’ve also been able to visit the Menil House and Rienzi while visiting the city. Both are exquisite.
Your designs were very well received during and after the fashion show. What is the major emphasis of your Fall 2015 collection?
It’s all about rich texture without relying much on prints. I sought out a variety of luxurious fabrics and other materials—skins, fur—that work well together in a monochromatic way without being flat. Even an all black outfit has three or four different textures in one look. I also really wanted to expand upon the idea of American Sportswear. Usability. Multi-function. Most of the coats are convertible in some way—they have zip-in and zip-out features much like you would find in a NorthFace jacket, but they’re also luxury pieces. Multi-tasking and versatility are important because it’s how we live and work today.
We also noticed a pretty heavy militaristic vibe, both with the shapes of the garments and the emphasis on olive, camel and black.
Well, there’s part of me that loves a uniform. (Wu laughs.) I design wearable clothes and, especially with outerwear, I am drawn to the lines of military clothing. They’re polished and timeless. As for the color, olive is a tone I’m currently very into and camel and black never go out of style. Again, I really love to design with timelessness and sophistication in mind.
And yet there’s a subtle sexiness in your peekaboo panels and slits…
Yes, my customer, the lady I design for, can be discreet but with a hint of seduction. My version of sexy doesn’t show everything. I like the idea of a demure dress with a cap sleeve that hits below the knee but then has a big slit to show some leg when she walks.
Or a full-length gown with a high neckline but a totally open back.
Tell us about the beading in this collection—it almost looks like camouflage. But in a good way! Did you design the pattern?
Yes! I was going for an almost animal print type of pattern. Something that, again, would not be flat even though the beads and fabric are all the same color. Another way to emphasize texture and another way to be sexy but sophisticated. Plus the beading is laid on fabric that really hugs the skin well, giving it a lot of fluidity and movement.
The colors and designs for the Fall/Winter collection are not a huge departure from your current Spring collection. In fact, it seems a lot of the pieces could be interchangeable and work well with each other. Is this an emerging priority for you? Ensuring your clothes can mix and match among future collections?
Collectability is key. I like to think I create investment pieces [that are] timeless and avoid trends. I’m trying to design with that goal in mind. So yes, I would like for ladies to be able to pull out a dress from two or three seasons ago and pair it with something new, but it’s not a hard and fast rule that collections necessarily look alike or go together.
So you’ve designed not one but two inaugural gowns for the First Lady of the United States. You’ve launched your own eponymous line. You’re the creative force behind another venerable fashion house, Hugo Boss. You’ve just expanded your label to include accessories and jewelry. What’s up next for Jason Wu?
Whew! That sounds like a lot.... We just launched the Diane handbag, inspired by my longtime friend, [actress] Diane Kruger, so I’m very excited at the prospect of expanding my label’s outreach to a broader audience. The same goes for our new accessory and jewelry lines. It’s another way to reach more women and make them feel beautiful and polished. I want to be able to relate to my customer on many levels, whether she thinks of fashion when getting dressed up to go out or just on a regular day when she’s going to work or running errands. Not just anyone at any time can go for a floor length dress or a fur collared coat, but it’s amazing how chic you can feel just by putting on a great pair of well-designed sunglasses.