What You Missed at Jason Wu’s ICA Chat Last Night

Michelle Obama's favorite designer talked RuPaul and the fantasy of fashion with chief curator Helen Molesworth.

577B7811[Jason Wu in conversation with ICA chief curator Helen Molesworth / All photos by Lisa Richov]

Taiwanese-born designer Jason Wu stopped in town last night for a sold-out talk at the ICA and a reception at Louis. The charming Wu, who got his sartorial start designing dolls as a teenager, is known for creating both of first lady Michelle Obama’s inauguration ball gowns (!) and dressing scads of starlets, from Diane Kruger to Iman. “It feels good to be me right now,” he told ICA chief curator Helen Molesworth, with a smile.

Ahead, the takeaway from a very stylish night.

On his introduction to the fashion world
“I had to learn English when I was nine [when Wu moved to Canada with his family]. My mother hired this English teacher for me and my brother… she was really one of those people who changed my life. She threw away the books, metaphorically speaking. She gave me Vogue magazines to read because that’s what I wanted to read. So I started getting so infatuated with all the models —I knew who Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour, and Naomi Campbell were before I knew who the presidents of the United States were. I knew who Christian LaCroix was before the geography of where I was or where Vancouver was. I obsessed over it… that’s how I built my vocabulary and came out of my shell.”

On sketching
“Drawing is my language. That’s how I speak and get my ideas across. Drawing is really important to me. I’m always drawing. I have these Moleskine notebooks that I carry around and just draw down whatever idea I see. It’s a little collection of memories.”

On the “Jason Wu Woman”
“The idea of the Jason Wu woman in my head has always been this super sophisticated, super glamorous glamazon. I’ve always gravitated towards that and I was never very minimal in any way. I love makeup and a beautiful hairstyle — she’s always wearing high heels for some reason. She’s super feminine and I’ve always been attracted to that… she’s a little bitchy.”

On designing RuPaul dolls
“I moved to Canada in 1993 and that’s when Viva Glam from MAC came out and she was in all the campagins. As a little boy, I just gravitated to the tallest, glitteriest thing I could see — and that was RuPaul.”

On Michelle Obama wearing his designs
“She’s not a model or a fashion person. She has kids and a really important job. And she manages to look great and balance all that and I think people find it really inspirational, just her fearlessness in wearing the kind of things that a first lady has never really worn before. When was the last time a first lady wore Junya Watanabe and Alaia? It’s so cool.”

On designers who inspire him
“Charles James, Yves St Laurent, Christian Dior, Alaia. They are what I call designer’s designers. I pored over their works when I was a budding fashion student and I still do. I remember that I was in Chicago and there was this Charles James exhibit that I just missed and they were nice enough to let me go see all the dresses that they were in the process of taking down. And I remember looking at this big Charles James ballgrown and you had no idea how it was put together. It was gravity-defying and stood up by itself — it was an architectural masterpiece. That’s thrilling. All I want to do is figure out how to make it. That’s interesting to me. It’s pretty, pretty, whatever. I want to see how its made — I want to see what the inside is like.”

On fashion’s role in the world-at-large
“As designers we have to react to everything that’s going on in the world because that’s what makes our world relevant. That’s the real talent. It isn’t just the ability to interpret something and do something that’s wearable, it’s also do to it at a time that makes sense. Right now, I feel like a bigger shoulder, little waist, and bigger hip makes sense — we’re ready for a little glamour. The ’90s were strict and so minimal and right now we are ready to celebrate a little bit again.”

On his other interests
“I love to eat and I love to cook. I would love to have a restaurant some day but I don’t think that will happen for a while. That’s my fall-back career.”

On the intersection of fashion and fantasy
“Both sides of the equation are interesting to me. I love a beautiful picture — I love a dress that you can’t really wear anywhere and I love a dress that is impractical. But I also love to see a woman wearing my clothes.

That’s the fantasy part of fashion. You need that. If you don’t have fantasy then fashion is boring. It can’t be all so practical. You have to have something to dream about. That’s why I got into this business to begin with — certainly not for the business aspect. I got into it because I was dreaming about it. I love beautiful things. I love feathers and beads and a little bit of lace. You can do a fully bead-and-feather dress that you can’t sit in and I’m all for that. But at the same time, I do want to introduce a little piece of that fantasy into something you could wear. For me, that’s part of my job as a fashion designer. Clothes are meant to be worn.”

And a few more photos from the night’s festivities…

577B7852[A line of Jason Wu dresses at the Louis reception.]

577B7968[Louis was one of the first stores to carry Jason Wu. He called owner Debi Greenberg, above left, a “career-launcher,” adding that “it’s tastemakers like Debi who discover us.”]