Jason Wu (like Fashionista!) celebrated his label's 10-year anniversary in 2017. Within a decade, he's built a name for himself as one of the great American designers of the modern era. Perhaps you'll recall that historic night in 2009, when Michelle Obama showed up to the inaugural ball wearing one of his designs: a one-shoulder white chiffon gown. It became instantly iconic and helped to solidify the Jason Wu brand as a force in the American fashion industry, but once you've dressed the chicest first lady of the modern era, what's even left for a designer to aspire to? A fragrance, of course.
Wu has dabbled in the beauty industry before — he's worked on collaborations with Lancôme and Caudalie — but the advent of his eponymous fragrance at Saks Fifth Avenue on Tuesday marks his first foray into beauty under the Jason Wu label. I caught up with the designer over the phone ahead of the launch to talk about scent memories from his childhood in Taiwan, who he sees as the ideal representation of modern American beauty and whether there may be more Jason Wu beauty to come in the future.
Tell me about your decision to launch a scent. Why was now the right time for you to do it?
I just celebrated my 10th year in business, and it seems like this is the perfect time to leave something that encapsulates everything I've done so far in my career. It's kind of a representation of the Jason Wu woman. The past 10 years have helped the brand come to fruition in a very interesting journey, and I feel like I've learned enough about myself and the brand has matured enough to make this the right time.
It seems like you've always had an interest in beauty — you've done some collaborations in the past. Why was fragrance the first time you ventured out on your own in the beauty realm?
I've actually always wanted to [create a fragrance]. It has been a dream to have my own fragrances. I think when you first meet a person, it's the smell that subliminally kind of attracts you. I've always thought scent is very powerful. I've done so many beauty collaborations because it's an area that makes a lot of sense for me and for my brand. I've always played with a lot of beauty looks on the runway. I love it because I think it goes very well with the very feminine vision that I have for my brand. I've been very open to working on a lot of projects in beauty, so it just seemed to make sense to have something that is finally my own.
How is the scent in keeping with the Jason Wu brand?
I think when you look at it, visually... the bottle is designed by Andre Mellone, who also designed my shop last year. It has a mid-century inspiration, which is where I draw a lot of inspiration for my ready-to-wear collections as well, and also my sensibility for interior design. I love to collect mid-century furniture.
The pressed powder pink to me is representation of sensuality and femininity, which I think is very synonymous with the Jason Wu brand. The smell is floral, very powdery, slightly woody — it's quite sexy and delicate. It's extremely, extremely feminine. If you look back at all of my collections, every one has had a floral print or motif or embroidery. Floral has been something that's been key to me. All of these things inform the creation of the brand.
What has been interesting is when I was starting to create the fragrance, I had to do a blind test of 300 or 400 ingredients. I didn't know what I was smelling. I smelled one scent that kind of just took me back, and I didn't really understand what it was. Then it was revealed that it was jasmine, and I remembered that when I was growing up in Taiwan, my neighbors had jasmine all over their wall. It was a front wall full of them, and I used to go and pick them. So it's a very personal project, because all of these smells are things that are very positive memories for me.
How would you describe the scent?
It's light — that was very important to me. It's made from mostly white florals: It's jasmine sambac, peony, lilies of the valley. There's a transparency, something that feels very light, that doesn't feel like you walk in the room and the smell permeates. It's more like when someone passes by you there's a subtle scent, that's what kind of I wanted. I wanted something that was very day-to-evening. The fragrance develops [over the course of the day], so you go from the top layer of the white florals to these woodier, fruity flavors, like fig and mandarin. There's also pink peppercorn, so there's definitely a little edge.
Tell me more about the design of the bottle and what you were hoping to evoke with it.
There is a cleanness about the bottle, and it has a super-thick base. It's produced in Parma, Italy. I like the idea that it almost looks like a beautiful piece of sculpture; it's very thick glass with a round gold cap. The circle is really inspired by the "O" in the Jason Wu logo, which is a perfect circle, and has been a recurring theme in my career. I have a lot of handbags with hardware that looks like that. The gold tone has been very familiar to the brand. Then mixed with the paperweight quality of the base, it felt like something that was not only substantial but also something that was a beautiful object.
So do you think it's the type of packaging someone would hold on to, even after they use up the fragrance?
I've always thought what's so magical about beauty — makeup palettes, perfume bottles, they're so beautiful. I call the color of the juice "pressed powder" because I was inspired by these powder puffs and pressed powders from the 1950's.
Tell me about the choice to feature Lily Aldridge as the face of the campaign. What does she embody about the scent?
She represents a lot of what I wanted to portray in the fragrance: the vulnerability, the sensuality, but also the strength and femininity. Lily and I have been friends for quite a few years and always wanted to work on a project together. She's such a great representation of modern American beauty.
Do you have other plans for additional beauty products under the Jason Wu brand in the future?
It's definitely on the horizon — it's something I'm looking forward to. This is a big move for us to finally launch the Jason Wu fragrance. I hope this is a starter for Jason Wu [in the] beauty world, but right now we're putting all of our focus into this launch.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.