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Exclusive Interview With Jason Wu: Trunk Shows, Cosmetic Collabs, Michelle Obama, His Dad, and his Favorite In-Flight Moisturizers

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Our intrepid West Coast Racked correspondent Christianna Ablahad recently met up with a very nattily dressed 28-year old Jason Wu at San Diego’s Nordstrom Fashion Valley, where the designer was previewing pieces from his spring-summer 2011 line to the public and having lunch with some VIP Nordstrom customers.

Wu dished on his life before and after Michelle Obama, taking after Dad, how he deals with dry skin while traveling, and his new makeup collabs. We were guilty of fondling some of the pieces a little too long, but what else do you expect us to do when seeing next season’s Jason Wu up close?

Did your parents know you wanted to be a designer or did they encourage you to do something else while you were growing up?
Jason Wu: I wouldn’t say they wanted me to be anything, but they definitely knew I wasn’t going to be a lawyer or an accountant. I sort of burst out of the womb and started drawing. I got my hands on a box of crayons and it was very evident that I was going to be exploring a career in the arts or something of the sort. I’m really fortunate to have stayed on the same course.

Especially right out of the womb.
Honestly! I have really good friends of mine that have experimented with different career ideas and I never did that. I knew. I decided that I wanted to be a designer at 13 when I fully comprehended the career and I’ve been on that course ever since.

Thirteen, that was what, five years ago?
(Laughs) Six years ago.

What kind of struggles did you have (what we like to call) BMO (Before Michelle Obama) and AMO (After Michelle Obama)?
Before, I was in the business for almost five years and working in my living room with no employees, then one employee in a small studio, then I had a slightly bigger studio. I was starting the business when I was very young, 23, and there were so many things I had to learn that they didn’t teach you in school, like, how do you ship to a store, how do you manage the documents and accept orders. How do you produce a garment in a very consistent manner, and how do you market yourself—the business and marketing side of it and being a designer, so I’ve had to wear many, many hats, and I still do. It was really a process and really due to a lot of hard, hard work, which is why we’re where we are today.

What about AMO?
After the inauguration, I was really under the spotlight and it wasn’t just the fashion spotlight. It was really the entire world. It was an enormous amount of pressure for sure, but I feel like it really pushed me, because I was forced to ask myself certain questions—What do you want to be in 15 years instead of what do you want to be in five years. I had to look at it in a much bigger way. It’s a rare opportunity where I can grow the business in such a huge way and allowed me to think in a bigger scheme of things and I can easily envision where I want to be in 20 years.

Is any of that based on other designers that may have been your inspiration?
Yes, and I looked to a lot of successful business people. As much as fashion is fashion, there’s some fundamental business aspects and fundamental things a business has to go through to get to that next level, and my father was really good example for me because he’s a really successful business man. He has taught me a lot and he’s also built his business from the ground up. No matter how big you get, you always have to pay attention to the little things and be a part of everything.

Photos by Christianna Ablahad for

If you were based in California rather than New York, do you think your aesthetic would be different?
I think where I travel affects where I design. I get to travel a lot. Last week I was in Bejing and Tiawan, next week, I’m going to Switzerland and the week after, I’ll be in Paris.

How do you keep your skin moisturized with the dry cabin air?
Lotion, lotion and water.

What kind?
Neutrogena, actually, and a Shiseido hydrating mask. I also drink lots of water. Having traveled a lot has really changed me—and for the better. You see so many things, so many unexpected little things that can inspire an entire collection sometimes. I think it’s important to travel—it’s a global market and there’s no such thing as regional anymore. It’s all global.

How important are these informal showings and customer meet and greets?
I think it’s important. I need to know what my clients are like and that puts my work into perspective. It’s really thrilling to see what I create and send down a runway on somebody out.

Speaking of shows, do you do anything superstitious before big shows to make sure they go off without a hitch?
I keep a lucky penny in my pocket.

How long have you had it?
Three years.

Do you kind of rub it before the show?
Yeah, yeah! It’s always in my front pocket. It’s a little something.

What do you think about musicians crossing over into design and how everyone’s a fashion designer now?
I think it’s very different. An entertainer doing fashion design versus myself, it’s two very different types of fashion. Fashion is such a big word because there are so many different parts of it. I do designer price point, but there’s contemporary price point, too and there’s maternity, there’s toddler’s clothes, there’s lingerie, there’s footwear, and so on.

Well, would you go the other way and cross over into music?
(Laughs) I think it would be a disservice if I sang, because I’m a great designer, but I’m not a great singer.

Any new projects coming down the pipeline?
I have eyeshadow, but it’s only in Asia right now. It’s called Jason Wu for Supreme Aupres. It’s my first collaboration in beauty. It’s seven limited edition colors. I also launched a collection of nail colors with Creative Nail Design that’s coming out in spring.

What are the colors like?
There’s a really sexy, dark bordeaux red that looks like a deep blood color. There’s a signature Jason Wu grey—that’s like a taupe-y grey. There’s a really beautiful mauvey pink and there’s a taupe color which I love.

Did you name any of your eyeshadows or nail polishes Wu Hu (Woo Hoo)?
No, but there’s a Miss Wu. That’s my signature grey color.

Any other major projects you’re working on?
I just launched my accessories collections of shoes and handbags. That’s really significant, because that’s the next step in the brand.
· Jason Wu [Nordstrom]
· Jason Wu [Official Site]