Jason Wu isn’t merely the guy who dressed Michelle Obama. He is also taking charge of Boss womenswear. Female breaks down why, why him, and how he’s doing it.
Boss women needed a fillip
In fashion, the Boss group is a titan with 1,010 stores worldwide, and raking in 2.4 billion euros (S$3.95 billion) worth of revenue last year – 89 per cent of that came from menswear. It’s not surprising. Boss is first and foremost a men’s label with a 90-year history in tailoring and precision cuts (womenswear was only introduced in 2000). Factor in how both lines have never had a prominent creative head, and it’s hard to think of the brand as anything else but classic suits – great if you’re a dude (or a female trying to get street-style-papped at Fashion Week); not so great if you’re the sort who associates suits with workwear (read: most women). Says the brand’s chief executive Claus-Dietrich Lahrs of the women’s line: “We were missing the design element.”
The brand needed to be “fashion”, but not overly so
According to The Wall Street Journal, the label held a focus group to find out what modern customers – think career-woman-and-mother-all-rolled-into-one types that Lahrs had met at a business conference – want in a refreshed Boss Women. The answers: foolproof silhouettes, no logos, and clothes that are not outlandish, yet cut a distinct figure. If you ask us, all of that could have been summed up in two words: American sportswear.
Wu’s got the look
The 32-year-old Taipei-born, New York-based designer is like the Michael Buble of fashion. Since starting his eponymous label in 2006, he’s made a name for easy-to-wear, romantic dresses and daywear that’s sophisticated beyond his age. That Michelle Obama picked his gowns for the presidential inauguration (twice) speaks volumes of his aesthetic: It’s elegant and makes an impression without being intimidating – exactly what Boss needs to lure new customers while keeping existing ones.
He’s also enterprising
At 16, he got himself a job designing doll wear; at 22, he quit fashion school to intern with Narciso Rodriguez; at 24, he started his brand with his doll- wear earnings. He has since gone on to collaborate with Target, Lancome and American home furnishing specialist Canvas. Wu’s not just a designer; he knows how to package a brand and make it relevant. It explains why Boss created the role of artistic director for him, in which he not only designs the women’s line, but also oversees fragrances, watches and ad campaigns – including the men’s. Says Wu, who was appointed in June 2013: “This is a big company; a machine. What’s been missing is a single, unified message that translates throughout the entire company, all the way down to the stores and customers.”
Cue the (high) fashion spotlight
Before Wu, Boss wasn’t part of the main Fashion Week calendar. Under Wu (who splits his time between Metzingen, Germany, home to Boss headquarters, and New York, where a new design studio has been set up), the brand shows at New York Fashion Week – score on upping visibility and cred. Then there’s the media blitz: In February, the brand released an edgy short film (shot by Inez & Vinoodh) starring model-of-the-moment Edie Campbell as a primer to the Fall runway show. The same A-list team – along with fashion stylist Joe McKenna – is behind the season’s slick ad campaign. Wu says of Campbell, who’s also the muse for the collection: “She’s modern; she’s someone you want to get to know; she’s well-travelled, cultured, successful… She’s the right person to represent my new vision.”
Making boss rule
Wu’s goal is to inject femininity into the label while respecting its roots: “To me, the hallmark of Boss is… the unique combination of craftsmanship and tailoring with engineering; the sharp silhouette of the suit. My aim is to contrast that with a softness and femininity to create a mix that feels relevant for a modern woman.” For Fall (his first runway season), that translates into slim suits with sexy chiffon tops; slouchy knits with embroidered pencil skirts; lots of dresses, from military-inspired coat dresses to gossamer sequinned cocktail numbers – all in grey, black, white and camel. Wu sums up his vision with a Helmut Newton reference: “I think a lot about his images from the ’70s, where the masculine suit becomes the most feminine thing a woman can wear. I want Boss to be its modern counterpart.”
Photography Geoff Ang Styling Imran Jalal Hair Dennis Seah/Mosche Grand Hyatt Makeup Ros Chan, using Chanel Model Chloe M/Nu Models