Jason Wu first visited Singapore as a six-year-old boy. It was for a family trip, which he couldn’t recall much from his childhood memories. His second time, though, was bound to linger for years to come. In town for Singapore Fashion Week, the now 35-year-old creative director of his eponymous womenswear label was poised to headline the festivity with his Spring 2018 showcase.

“This is the first time I’ve done a Jason Wu fashion show outside of the United States,” the Taipei-born, New York-based Canadian designer beamed. “So it’s a very special moment.” Wu launched his line in 2007, fresh out of Parsons without any formal fashion training other than being a dressmaker of dolls. His signature tropes of timeless femininity and refined glamour set him apart from the very start. Dressing former US First Lady Michelle Obama in a white, one-shoulder, chiffon ball gown for her husband’s inauguration in 2009 thrusted Wu — who was relatively unknown outside fashion’s inner circle — into mainstream spotlight.

Michelle Obama wore Jason Wu at her husband’s Inauguration ball in 2009. (Photo: Damon Winter)

He didn’t let that turning point get him pigeonholed as a one-hit wonder. Marking 2017 as his decade milestone, so much more has happened in his business than dressing Obama: The introduction of sister line Grey Jason Wu, eyewear with Eponym, and the impending launch of his first fragrance early next year.

This is nothing but the beginning for Wu. He admitted to growing up in parallel to his label: “My vision has become clearer and clearer. I know myself so much better now than I did 10 years ago. The direction definitely much more womanly now. I think my concentration, interest, and what I want to design have really grown with me, growing up into my thirties.”

Catching up over flutes of rosé just a day before his big night at SGFW, we picked Jason Wu’s brain on the true meaning of luxury, the power of digi-based labels, and the importance of Instagram fashion critic Diet Prada’s existence.

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Bella Hadid opened Jason Wu’s latest Spring 2018 show in New York. (Photo: Vogue)
On sticking to his guns

I’ve definitely taken hints from sport or street, but in my own way. Never in a very literal way. Just wouldn’t feel very right for me. I think the one thing that’s important for a brand is that you have to be very consistent about your message, who you are. That’s what makes you a brand. What I love is beauty, timelessness. I really want to make sure that those are the first qualities that you see with every collection.”

On the fashion industry’s need for change

“Everyone now has to change about how they think about clothes, seasons, regionals, because there’s much less of that. And everyone’s seeing the same thing at the same time. The consumers aren’t able to make a lot of their own decisions and they’re getting their information not only from traditional sources — thanks to tech advancement. It’s kind of like a free-for-all game, you know. In that sense, it promotes change for an industry that doesn’t change so much in terms of its model. It has to right now.”

On the downside of fashion’s accelerating breakneck speed

One of the minuses is definitely designers don’t have time to think anymore. I’ve done some things to change that. Like for example this year I’ve combined Resort and Spring. And then coming up, I’m combining my Pre-Fall and Fall. Now it will be two bigger collections in a year versus four themes in a year for Jason Wu. That’s something I’ve wanted to do so that I can have more time to develop and really work on each collection, which is so important to me. The speed of fashion — especially fast fashion — is so fast that luxury fashion has slowed down. We can’t compete at that speed, and we shouldn’t. At some point everyone was trying to be on that speed. I didn’t think that was right for what luxury means. It should be rare, special, well-considered, and the highest quality.”

And on the upside

The positive thing of fashion becoming faster and faster is that we are not so stuck on traditions anymore. It’s interesting because as fast as fashion is, we’re actually quite a traditional industry. Like, we’re focused on seasonalities and fashion weeks. That’s a model that’s been around for decades and decades, and it hasn’t changed.”

On the rise of location-transcending labels

As Asia is becoming, or is, the most powerful market in the world, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for Asian designers to come out on top. I was raised in the West, in Canada and then the US, so I had many great opportunities to do what I do. But for this next generation, you don’t necessarily have to be located in New York or Paris or London or Milan. The digital world is so far-reaching now. You can start something and be able to showcase it on Instagram. There are so many brands now coming from non-traditional roots. It’s a great time to be a designer.”

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The sarcastically incisive Diet Prada lets no one off, even Wu: “Since no one really cares about either of these guys, here’s a mild one to cool everyone off after last night’s Rihanna post. @jasonwu does his take on @altuzarra Spring 2014.” (Left: Altuzarra, Right: Jason Wu. Photo: Diet Prada)
On the essence of Instagram fashion critic Diet Prada

Diet Prada is hilarious. I look at their page from time to time. I think they have me on it sometimes, too. It’s funny. I mean, listen, fashion should be fun. Fashion is full of references. I think a lot of younger people don’t really understand the influences that came from a long, long time ago. What they see is probably limited to the last three seasons. Hopefully, with Instagram, people are starting to unearth more and letting people learn more about where the origins of everything are.”

On what the declining luxury retail market is missing

Going back to the roots of what luxury is — rarity, quality, speciality, interesting content and designs, things that not everybody has — that’s what we need to revive it [luxury retail market]. And the interesting thing is, the next big frontier in luxury is going to be led by all niche, independent brands, because people don’t want what everyone else has. I think luxury is going to go from having the must-have thing that everyone has to being something about having what not everyone has. It’s going to be about uniqueness.”

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Michelle Obama on the cover of Vogue US in a fuchsia Jason Wu, 2009. (Photo: Vogue)
On dressing former US First Lady Michelle Obama

It was amazing. Growing up, I wanted to be in New York, I wanted to be a fashion designer, of course, and to be in shows and magazines. I wanted people to know me as a fashion designer. I’d never thought I would become a part of American culture. That’s definitely a moment that will always be very special for me. Like, who can plan that? Also, becoming the first Asian designer to have that significance in America is pretty special for me.”

On the best lesson a decade of designing taught him

“You never really know at all. Don’t ever think you do. I thought that when I started my business more than 10 years ago, I thought I knew everything. As it turns out, I don’t. I’m still learning everyday. I learn from new obstacles, new opportunities, and that’s why I love what I do. It’s never really the same.”

(Main image: Jason Wu Studio; featured image: Sasha Maslov)