As the US basks in the glitz and glamor of Barack Obama’s inauguration, Taipei-born fashion designer Jason Wu (吳季剛) — just 26 years old — is emerging as an international star.
Wu, who designed first lady Michelle Obama’s inaugural ball gown, is winning lavish praise on TV and in the print media, being hailed as the next Oscar de la Renta.
Before this, he was virtually an unknown.
“I’ve been on pins and needles for two months,” the New York-based Wu said. “I made the dress in November and flew to Chicago with it. I was like, I’m delivering this myself. I didn’t want anyone else touching it.”
“But I really didn’t know she’d be wearing it until I saw her on TV just like everyone else. I dropped everything when she walked out. And yes, I did cry a little bit. It was an incredible moment for me,” he said.
The ivory chiffon dress, fluffy and many-layered, with a one-shoulder strap, is flecked with organza flowers and crystals.
It cost about US$6,000 and will now be donated to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington where it will go on permanent display as part of the historic “Presidential Inauguration” collection. It will never be worn again.
In the words of the New York Times, the ball gown “made a statement.”
The newspaper said: “Here is a bolder woman, a serious woman from Chicago and Harvard, who is not afraid to express herself with fashion. Her clothes tell us that she has an adventurous spirit, as well as a sense of humor, and if some of these garments have almost an old-fashioned womanly quality, then they tell us that she is indeed not your average fashionista.
Teen Vogue magazine said that Wu had “scored the fashion coup of the century.”
“I barely got any sleep last night,” Wu said. “My parents are in Taiwan where there’s a thirteen hour time difference and they called me five minutes after it happened. That’s how crazy this is. The whole world is watching.”
The Wu family moved from Taipei to Vancouver, Canada, when Jason was nine.
Always fascinated by fashion, he learned to sew, draft patterns and sketch his designs by using dolls as mannequins.
At the age of 14, he went to study in Tokyo and then moved to Paris.
In 1998, after he won a fashion doll design contest, he was hired as a freelance designer by a major US toy company. Two years later, at the age of 17, he was appointed full-time creative director and was made a partner soon after.
He moved to New York and enrolled at the prestigious Parsons School of Design and interned with the famous Narciso Rodriguez.
In 2006, he launched his own label, with customers such as Ivana Trump, Lisa Cant and Amber Valletta.
Michelle Obama also wore a Jason Wu dress — that cost US$3,510 — during an interview with Barbara Walters in November.
Obama family friends say that he has become her favorite designer and will almost certainly be chosen to make some of the first lady’s clothes for major functions throughout the Obama presidency.
She was introduced to Wu about a year ago by Ikram Goldman, owner of an influential boutique in her native Chicago.
Asked why he had chosen a white gown when Michelle Obama usually wears bright colors, Wu said: “I wanted to design a gown that would highlight her best features. I wanted to say something about who she is. I see her as a powerful, energetic, incredible woman. I wanted the gown to have a dreamlike quality because it’s pretty surreal.”