JASON WU OCCUPATION: Fashion designer
DEFINING MOMENT: “It would be that first inauguration. It was really special because it was a moment when the world was watching, and it felt magical. Something like that had never happened [in American politics]. It was a sentimental moment; you can’t really replicate that.”
WORDS OF ADVICE: “Put in the work. It can be easy to get caught up in the glamour, but it’s important to keep your feet on the ground. You can’t forget the work. In the end, that’s what it’s about.”
There are two kinds of people in the world - those who rest on their laurels after achieving something as impressive as dressing the American first lady for her husband's inauguration, and those who chalk it up as just another milestone in an illustrious career and keep moving onwards and upwards.
Jason Wu is of the latter group - and he's making the rest of us look bad.
"It was a very important moment for me," says the Taiwanese-Canadian designer who, at the age of 26, managed to do what many designers can only dream of - dress the first lady of the United States for her husband's first-term presidential inauguration ball in 2009. Michelle Obama had already worn one of Wu's creations - a US$3,510 silk dress for an appearance on ABC's The Barbara Walters Special, an occasion that many refer to as the launch of the designer's career.
It put his name on the sartorial map, at least. Having started his eponymous line, Jason Wu, in 2006, the designer was still relatively unknown at the time, but Obama's continued support quickly catapulted him to household-name status.
Nevertheless, Wu wants more. "I don't want to just be a one-hit wonder," he says. "A career can't be made out of one event. I want many more hits."
Wu has enjoyed many more of those in the years since the Obama inaugural dress. Fashion houses started paying attention to his label and, in June last year, Wu was asked to be an art director at German fashion brand Hugo Boss. In his new role, Wu is responsible for overseeing the brand's womenswear collections, and this is where his signature clean lines and easy elegance come into play.
"With this job, [it's about] setting the stage for BOSS womenswear in a new way," he says. "The company has such a rich heritage and DNA, but the women's collection is very young. My job here is to give the womenswear a definite voice and to do it in a way that's honest and true - respectful of what the company is about."
The brand sought Wu out for his ability to bring a certain softness and femininity to the brand - and he didn't disappoint. His first collection for the brand debuted at New York Fashion Week in February, and his work was celebrated for its effortlessly stunning silhouettes, beautiful tailoring and refreshing, contemporary feel.
Today, perched comfortably on a sofa at the new BOSS flagship store in Hong Kong's Central district, it seems impossible to imagine that before he was dressing the most well-known women in the world, Wu made clothes for dolls.
"My mother finally gave me a sewing machine for my ninth birthday after I begged for one," he recalls. Over the years, Wu honed his skills by designing and sewing doll's clothes, eventually doing so professionally for a toy company, Integrity Toys, of which he later became creative director.
Wu says he has harboured an interest in fashion for as long as he can remember - in fact, that was how his childhood tutor encouraged him to learn.
He didn't speak a word of English when he moved overseas to Vancouver with his family at the age of nine. With the language barrier and a negligible interest in school, Wu faltered in his studies. "I was never really good at school," he says ruefully. "I was the one Asian kid who wasn't good at math."
Luckily, his tutor found an ingenious way to help Wu with his English - she brought him fashion magazines. "I remember this beautiful story, set in a garden with stunning clothes. It was such a great image for me," he recalls.
Eager to find out more about the exquisite beauty in those pages, Wu gradually picked up the language. "My first words were probably 'Stephanie Seymour'," he jokes, referring to the American supermodel.
Wu's designs now appear frequently in those magazines, a trend that will only increase now that he has double the workload - designing for Hugo Boss while running his own label. Balancing the two is no easy task, but it's a challenge he relishes, particularly as his work for BOSS womenswear allows him to tap into an entirely different style and design aesthetic.
"My collection is romantic; it has an Old World romanticism about it that's quite inherent to me. When it comes to BOSS, the direction was to go with the discipline, the rigor, the tailoring, the German engineering. I have a very clear vision for both."
Looking forward, Wu expects to focus on the tailoring of the upcoming womenswear collections. "I want to take the architectural elements and technology of the brand and apply them to women's dresses," he says. "There's a lot more work to do."
It's a prospect he finds exciting - and, more importantly, refreshing. "You don't go into fashion wanting the same thing over and over," he says. "Fashion is about selling a dream. And for me, it's about living that dream."