When the First Lady made her grand entrance last week in Washington, D.C., at the inaugural balls, she caught the attention of the world. The one question everyone wanted to know— who was behind the design? Jason Wu, a 26-year-old emerging designer, found out while watching television on Inauguration Night that Mrs. Obama had chosen his creation. ESSENCE.com caught up with the New York City designer to discuss his inspiration for the gown, how to dress your best in this economic climate and what we should expect next from this rising design star.
ESSENCE.COM: When creating the First Lady's gown, what message, if any, did you hope would transcend through the design?
JASON WU: I wanted the dress to be powerful and feminine. It had to be striking and it had to represent hope, and white is like a clean slate. I feel we are starting a new chapter in our country and I wanted the dress to represent that.
ESSENCE.COM: What emotions were running through you when you first saw her on TV wearing your gown?
WU: It's hard to put it into words how I felt about it. The whole experience was exhilarating. The whole thing is bigger than me; it's bigger than anything I could have ever hoped for.
ESSENCE.COM: Can you describe the design process you used to create Mrs. Obama's gown?
WU: She was my inspiration. It was all about the message they've been sending and what they represent. They represent a new chapter in our country and the new guard. She really does not follow any rules. She makes her own rules and that's what's so impressive about her.
ESSENCE.COM: Your designs are bold, but you're known to be rather shy.
WU: I think I'm understated and I stick to myself and no crazy partying (laugh). But I'm just a normal guy and I love doing what I do. I don't want to do anything else.
ESSENCE.COM: I wouldn't want you doing anything else (laugh).
WU: I wanted to design and that's all I ever wanted to do and I'm doing it!
ESSENCE.com gets sneak peek at Wu's NY studio
ESSENCE.COM: What three things would people never guess about you personally?
WU: I love to cook; I love watching movies and "Milk" is one of my newest favorites; and I'm obsessed with "Sex in the City."
ESSENCE.COM: You're the man of the moment in the fashion world. How do you envision riding out or extending the media attention you are receiving right now. And how do you plan to generate that interest into retail success during the current economic climate?
WU: I think it's about sustaining the brand and showing depth in my next collection, improving my craft. It's not about basking in the moment and not doing anything else. It's about working harder than ever. It's a difficult time, especially now, it's a difficult economic climate and a volatile market. More than ever it's going to be harder to start for all the young designers, but you start with an inspiration and you start with hope and that's it. Without being inspired you really can't accomplish anything. Right now the entire country is inspired.
ESSENCE.COM: You now have a very commanding presence and have made a historical impact on American fashion. What does that mean to you as a designer, both creatively and culturally?
WU: I grew up in Taiwan, moved to Vancouver and then went to school in Connecticut. When I was in boarding school I had friends from every nationality imaginable. That's my life—it's just normal for me. I lived in France and so many places and I feel it has contributed to who I am today. I just don't see things in color. I see things for what they are and that's just the way I've always been.
ESSENCE.COM: What unique characteristics do you hope will define your style and brand?
WU: It's about making women feel truly beautiful and sometimes we lose that. Sometimes designers want to try to make a point to be avant-garde or to deconstruct women and that's great, but I want my clothes to make women feel beautiful and I embrace that. I want to bring truly beautifully made clothes back. It's not about having a designer brand and it's not about how much anything costs. It's about having things you can keep over the years that you are going to love in 20 years.
ESSENCE.COM: What can we expect from you during Fashion Week New York?
WU: Stay tuned. I won't give it away.
For more information about the designer, visit jasonwustudio.com.