Interview: Behind the seams with fashion designer Jason Wu

Interview: Behind the seams with fashion designer Jason Wu

Ever since Michelle Obama wore his gown on inauguration night, life has never been the same
Jason Wu
Jason Wu
Jessica Alba
Paula Patton
Paula Patton
U.S. President Barack Obama arrives with First Lady Michelle Obama glowing in a Jason Wu dress at Midatlantic Regional Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

At the inaugural ball in January, Michelle Obama donned an ethereal, ivory one-shoulder gown and glided onstage with her husband, the new President of the United States, who asked the crowd, “How good lookin’ is my wife?”

And today things are pretty good lookin' for the young designer behind the dress, too. Since that night, a night he calls "life-changing," 27-year-old Jason Wu has become one of the hottest names in the fashion industry. His clean and punchy pieces -- from daytime blouses to floor-length evening gowns -- have been spotted on stars such as Eva Longoria, Leighton Meester and even Barbara Walters.

Now he's busy working on his pre-fall and fall collections, and creating limited-edition designs for the cashmere label Tse.

The Taiwan-born stylemaker visits Asia often for business and inspiration. His spring 2009 collection was sparked by a flashy street scene in Tokyo. He recently introduced his line in Hong Kong and China, exclusively at Lane Crawford. From his design studio in New York City, Wu chatted with CNNGo.

CNNGo: How have your travels in Asia inspired your work?

Jason Wu: I visit Taiwan once a year and just recently went to Hong Kong and China on a business trip. It was my first time in Beijing -- I went to the Forbidden City and was just a tourist for a day. Asia provides natural inspiration. There's the juxtaposition of modern and very traditional architecture. And Japan brings a whole new thing to table. In Tokyo, there's a lot of fresh, young energy. They love fashion there. There's certainly a sense of fearlessness -- you see it in the girls in Harajuku and the Lolita girls. Their sense of self-expression is really inspiring, really cool. Fashion is all about having fun, mixing humor with your own personality.

Jason WuPortrait of Jason WuCNNGo: Who's your favorite designer in Asia?

Wu: I don't have a favorite designer in Asia, but I like this brand called Undercover out of Japan. The sizes there are much better for me [than the sizes in the States].

CNNGo: Tell me about your Spring 2010 collection.

Wu: It's [sculptor] Tara Donovan meets Tim Burton -- Tara Donovan because I took materials that are more plain and made them extremely sculptural, and Tim Burton because it's a little gritty with exposed chains and raw edges, and a little whimsical.

CNNGo: How have things changed since Michelle Obama donned your gown at an inaugural ball?

Wu: We went international overnight. It usually takes 20, 30 years, plus a major advertising budget, to achieve what our young brand has. It's amazing how many people around the world now know about us. It's been life-changing.

CNNGo: Have you designed any pieces for Mrs. O. since?

Wu: She's worn the label 15 to 20 times. I love following what she wears, whether it's by me or not. She's able to have fun, but still be taken seriously. She has a sense of ease with fashion. It's part of who she is, but you can tell it's not all she's about. She's cultivated a real demand for American fashion and has done a lot for the fashion industry as a whole.

CNNGo: When it comes to fashion, is there anything that's hot right now that you just despise?

Wu: I don't think there's anything I despise -- there are things that are just not my style. Though I do hope acid-wash jeans will never come back.

CNNGo: Which celebrity has amazing style?

Michelle Obama has worn the label 15 to 20 times. I love following what she wears, whether it's by me or not.
— Jason Wu

Wu: Diane Kruger. She's a friend of mine. She inspires me. She has a great sense of style and is a great actress on top of that.

CNNGo: What do you do when you're not designing?

Wu: Cook, travel, sightsee, collect books. And I love the Nintendo Wii. Bowling is my favorite. It's endless fun. It's my only way of getting exercise nowadays because I'm so busy.

CNNGo: What are your guilty pleasures?

Wu: Dessert. I love sweets. Oh, and "Gossip Girl." The plot is great. It's a catchy show.

CNNGo: What's a style tip that every woman can use?

Wu: Fit is so important. Always have that one dress that fits your body, no matter what size you are, a dress that you can change and make look completely different by accessorizing. A piece that's timeless.

Michelle Woo is a journalist and blogger, whose work has appeared in USA Today, The Arizona Republic, Detroit Free Press, Orange County Register and on CNN.com.
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