A Conversation With Jason Wu at the ICA Boston

By Jennifer Sun
Photos: Lauren Engel


Before Jason Wu was a well-known name in the fashion industry, before he got to present his collections at New York Fashion Week in front of thousands, and before his dress was chosen by Michelle Obama for the Inaugural Ball, his career got an important start in Boston. Back in 2008, Debi Greenberg, the owner of Louis (a high-end clothing store in Boston), recognized Wu’s talent and was one of the first stores to carry Wu’s clothes. Even though Michelle Obama was a “career-launcher” for Jason Wu, he still accredits Debi fondly as a “tastemaker who discovered him.”

It is without a doubt that his appreciation for Debi is one of the reasons Wu travels back to Boston to talk about his career, designs, and sense of style. The event at the Institute of Contemporary Art featured a conversation between Helen Molesworth, chief curator of the museum, and Jason Wu that lasted about 1.5 hours. Towards the end of the night, the floor was opened to the audience who were allowed to ask questions to the designer.

Here are some of the things the Taiwanese-born designer shared with the crowd:

What changed his life:

When Wu was younger, he needed an English tutor and she “metaphorically threw the books away” and gave him Vogue magazines instead because that’s what he wanted to read. So at a very young age, he became acquainted with designers like Christian Lecroix, models like Christy Turlington, and more before he even learned about topics like math or geography. That was when he “came out of his shell.”

His appreciation for his parents:

Wu is glad that his parents recognized early on that he had always had an affinity for the creative arts. After all, he had made his own dolls at the age of 16. The designer had wanted to go an arts school for high school, but his parents wanted him to attend boarding school. In exchange, Wu agreed to go to the boarding school if he could go anywhere he wanted for college. His mother relented and asked him to “just consider Columbia, okay?” But Columbia wasn’t what he wanted, he didn’t even apply. Instead, he chose Parsons. Nonetheless, Wu is grateful that he didn’t go to an arts school for high school because he got a different perspective there and is not so one-sided.

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The “Jason Wu” woman:

He describes the Jason Wu woman as a “sophisticated, glam glamazon. I see her always in high heels even though that’s impractical and she’s super feminine.” To give an example, Jason Wu describes the first woman he ever saw wearing his clothes on the street. He still remembers every detail clearly, “It was on the Upper East Side. She was a young Asian girl dressed head-to-toe in my clothes and I loved it. I freaked out though. In my head, I was thinking, that’s Look 9! She’s wearing Look 9! So I go up to tell her ‘You are beautiful’ and she looks at me like I’m crazy. She obviously had no idea who I was so she said thanks and just walked away. The Jason Wu woman is too good for me; she’s got a lot of sass.”

His vision for his clothes:

Even though, fashion has a huge spectrum of styles, Jason Wu is most interested in “wearable” clothes because he’s always wanted to see people in his work. He still sometimes likes create impractical dresses because it’s a fantasy for him. “I like to dream, it’s one of the reasons I got into the [fashion industry] so I still try to make those dreams into something a woman can wear.”

Designers who he looks up to:

Charles James, Yves Saint Laurent, Azzedine Alaia and Christian Dior. “I pored over these designers’ work when I was a budding student and still do. When I look at these designers’ work, I just can’t fathom how they created that dress and I’m in awe. There was this one Charles James dress that was on display at an exhibit in Chicago and I was so interested in how he structured it. I wanted to touch it and take it apart so I could see how James did it, but of course, the museum curator wouldn’t let me.”

Whether or not you had a chance to attend the Jason Wu event at ICA Boston, what do you think of everything he had to say? Share in the comments below!

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