Jason Wu's studio in the fast-pulsing heart of New York City's garment district is a minimalist oasis of calm. Between the white scoop chairs and lacquered tables, the 19th-century parlour doors, the bare white walls, and bent-elbow steel racks that all serve to highlight the designer's latest creations, busy staff zip quietly back and forth, tip-toeing briskly over one of the most exciting floors in fashion.
This studio represents, as Wu once said, the first time he has expressed his brand in something other than his clothes.
The 29-year-old Taiwanese-American has stamped his mark on the fashion world with serious distinction. After studying at New York's renowned Parsons School of Design, he made his breakthrough in 2008 when he was nominated for the prestigious Vogue Fashion Fund award.
Starting his own line in New York with limited capital - he had to borrow from his parents - Wu soon found himself designing for Ivana Trump, January Jones, and drag queen RuPaul. It was America's First Lady, however, who propelled Wu onto the international stage. Michelle Obama picked one of his dresses for a high-profile TV interview ahead of the 2008 Presidential election, and then again turned to one of Wu's designs for her Inauguration ballgown. Suddenly, Wu was the world's hottest Chinese designer.
Lately, however, Wu has extended his aesthetics into the home. In conjunction with luxury faucets maker Brizo, a long-time sponsor of Wu's fashion shows, he has created his first homeware line. With the Jason Wu Designs for Brizo collection, the designer has taken his penchant for perfect construction and contrasting influences, and applied them to a powder-room suite, which includes a series of pieces not typically found in Brizo collections, including a wastebasket, free-standing soap pump, soap dish, and drawer knobs. These additions, however, are foils for the main event: the Odin faucet, which features a smart interface that allows users to control water flow by touching anywhere on the handle.
The faucet, like the collection, merges Scandinavian design and intricate Baroque detailing marked by a matte black finish, polished chrome and soft-brushed nickel. Brizo director Brian Nobbe said: 'We set out to prove fashion can be expressed outside the runway, as it's also a personal expression of oneself in the home'.
Personal expression is especially important to Wu, who wants to foster that quality in aspiring young Chinese designers. In that respect, the Brizo collection is just another example of his barrier-breaking achievements.
Sitting at a wooden table outside his office - the same table at which he sewed fabric petals on Obama's inauguration gown - the soft-spoken Wu says he retains close ties to his birthplace, and returned in 2010 to attend his brother's wedding.
'There had been so much press about me in Taiwan, because I suppose my story had touched Chinese people in general - people in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong - and that goes back to the story when I was growing up, that the arts weren't appreciated in Asia.'
He sees an opportunity to help promote the arts among young Chinese. 'Kids are encouraged to go into business - it's always a lawyer, accountant, businessperson that was the emphasis, and arts really weren't. We [Chinese] hadn't been known as creators; we're always manufacturers,' he says. 'My story inevitably, I felt like it touched people in a way where parents are re-evaluating their values, re-evaluating letting their kids draw. I grew up with kids that were not allowed to draw, not allowed to do anything extra-curricular. It was purely school work. I was lucky to have parents who understood and supported what I wanted to do. I wouldn't be sitting here if that didn't happen. I wouldn't have had the opportunity.'
The Brizo collection, like Wu and the continent from which he hails, represents an intersection between the worlds of manufacturing and art. Finally, the latter is gaining momentum in Asia, to the point where it's time for the East to stake its place in the global creative consciousness.
'We're really in a time in Asia where there's a real push towards creative identity, versus coming from China being a manufacturing society to a creative society,' says Wu. 'Being from Taiwan, where there's really a push, I feel like my story has given that some sense of reality.'
On his last trip to Taiwan, he was treated like royalty, getting to meet the President and being fawned over by the press. 'That was really crazy, but to me it was really great because I felt like at least I could deliver the message, that perhaps there are opportunities for kids that wouldn't [before] have been allowed that opportunity.'
Whether that message is being delivered direct from Wu's mouth or from one of his creations, it is an important one. Beyond borders, and beyond fashion, Wu has shown that Chinese artists can change the way the world looks.