Jason Wu works his way through all four elements. Emerging from last season's aquatic depths, he explored a dark forest, the setting of many a fairy tale, for fall. The goal, he said in a call before the show, was to combine fantasy with “an element of darkness, something a little more sinister and interesting.” (Wu, as Sandy Olsson in Fat, is on a mission to improve his image and wants people to see him as he is today, which is not the “polite and decent” person he was 15 years ago when he was become a fashion darling.) It is ironic that even as the rest of the world becomes obsessed with Capote's swans, Wu is turning away from the feminine finesse of his early work and toward deconstruction. It's a technique he's been playing with for several seasons now, and it likely has something to do with the designer's obsession with the work of Charles James, who, Wu said admiringly, made dresses as beautiful inside as they were. 'outside. Incidentally, James is credited with creating one of the first down jackets and Wu showed off a faded one, as well as coats with snaps at the center back allowing them to open with a nice flick .
Over the past year, Wu has continued to build on the tradition of American sportswear, presenting an ever-increasing number of separates alongside the pretty dresses he's known for. This season's opening look was a relaxed, off-the-shoulder top and many-paneled skirt in gray jersey with a spider's web of exposed stitching. A beautiful embroidered tulle top, light as an exhale, was paired with black pants, and tailored coats and jackets revealed their layers of horsehair in a perfectly imperfect way. “There’s the idea of doing something super elevated, but at the same time something well-worn,” Wu explained.
Here too, gentleness and a kind of emotional warmth were important. Wu resorted to draping and swaddling, the latter trend having spread from Copenhagen to New York. Pleated Fortuny-style dresses had bark- or lamella-like textures that also recalled the fragile ink lines of the drawings of 19th-century illustrator Arthur Rackham, whose work also inspired the custom print of the collection.
The final looks of the series owed something to James and, perhaps, Yohji Yamamoto, and were meant to convey a sense of defeat. By exposing their construction, the designer also started a conversation about the art and complexity of garment making and challenged the idea that beauty must equate to perfection. Aren’t we all a work in progress?
Realizing how difficult it is to work in the industry, or even sneak into a show these days, Wu invited 100 students to attend the show, including some studying with former CFDA award winner DooRi Chung at Marist. “I really want to do something that's not just for me, because I believe in the talent that is in New York,” Wu said. Her collection provides another reason to do so.