Great interview with Jason Wu for Vancouver based, Montecristo Magazine.
At nine years old, in 1991, Wu emigrated from Taiwan to Vancouver with his family, like so many others who belonged to that wave from Asia and who have seamlessly woven their culture into the fabric of our city, enriching it. Though he only spent five years here before leaving for boarding school in the United States, they were five auspicious years. Reflecting over dinner, Wu says, “When I moved here, a lot of immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong were moving here as well. It was an interesting time. I didn’t speak a word of English, but I had this tutor named Muriel—Muriel Kauffman. I wasn’t so interested in text books, so she gave me a pile of fashion magazines and sort of taught me English through there.”
While in Taiwan on the occasion of his brother’s wedding about a year and a half ago, Wu was inspired to create a collection that tapped into his own cultural heritage. “I think that was when the seed was planted that I wanted to do something that was Chinese influenced.” Marching down the runway to the sound of clashing cymbals, models wore the style of three historical periods in Chinese dress: empirical brocades from the Qing Dynasty; structural, military tailoring reminiscent of Mao’s Communist Revolution; and the sensational Hollywood glamorisation of China in 1930s films like Shanghai Express.
This, of course, was not the first time these themes have appeared in designer fashion—especially as of late. Numerous major fashion houses have appropriated orientalism and chinoiserie in their collections to capture the increasingly powerful Asian consumer group, albeit to criticism at times. But for Wu, “it was more a reflection on how I perceive my own background. I think it was important that I look at it with a different set of eyes, because I grew up with these elements. I almost wanted to poke fun at it a little bit by interpreting it through stereotypes … but also by incorporating all of that in a way that is elegant and powerful at the same time.”
When an article appeared in a September 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal with the headline, “Asian-Americans Climb Fashion Industry Ladder”, it caused much hype, speculation, and comparison between young New York designers like Wu, Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, Thakoon Panichgul, Prabal Gurung, Derek Lam, Richard Chai, and Doo-Ri Chung—most of whom have also been recipients of CFDA awards. “I think there is something really exciting going on with youth right now,” Wu retorts. “And [New York] is one of the most exciting places for young designers. This movement’s been going on for a little bit, but people still ask me, ‘There are so many Asian-born designers right now in New York. Why do you think that is?’ Well, I felt like [the fall/winter 2012 collection] was the first time I actually addressed that. And I suppose this hasn’t really been done before—an Asian designer tapping into the Asian side. Usually, culturally, we stay away from it … I feel like I’m at a place where I’m maturing not just as a designer, but as a person, to embark on inspirations that hit close to home.”