Despite the ongoing global pandemic, New York Fashion Week kicked off on Sunday (Feb. 14) with a fashion show — a limited-audience, socially-distanced one, but still.
Jason Wu was once again one of only a handful of designers to opt into presenting his latest collection on the runway, in an abridged production that still included live models and a handful of guests sitting at least six feet apart while masked. "We had to be much more careful," he tells Fashionista over the phone, the morning after the Fall 2021 debut. "For the most part, I just wanted to show the joy of fashion. We had 20 guests, which is a lot for today. It was really nice. It felt like there was a connection to people again."
As someone who spent a good portion of his life wanting to move to New York, Wu felt it was important to participate in the time-honored tradition that is fashion week. "New York has always been somewhere where I wanted to call home. And now, after 20 years — you know, things are tough out there. It's cold. There's not much going on at New York Fashion Week. I just wanted to make sure that New York Fashion Week was represented within the international calendars," he explains.
For him to stage a runway under these circumstances, though, Wu argues that relevancy is key. "September, all I wanted to do was be in Tulum, so I created where I wanted to be," he says. "This whole winter, usually I'd be traveling so much... I was really feeling nostalgic, and [the Fall 2021 show] was a representation of what I wanted. I wanted to move to America for a very long time, so Americana became a very important thing for me."
Whereas his last show was all about escapism, the theme for Fall 2021 was much more personal and familiar to Wu: cooking. "Most of my year has been at farmers market, which I actually really, really love," he says. "This was an opportunity for me to combine two of my favorite things, fashion and food."
Over the last year, the designer, like many of us, has become more of an amateur habitual chef, sharing his creations on Instagram at @mrwueats. Though that's been mostly separate from his namesake fashion line, Wu married his two passions on the runway this season, creating his very own general store with food from The Chefs' Warehouse and custom soda bottles from Coca-Cola (all of which were donated to City Harvest immediately following the show).
Models walked through the aisles of Mr. Wu's General Store in sharp outerwear — think ankle-skimming coats, boxy oversized blazers, big parkas — and long, flowy dresses and skirts in a restrained autumnal color palette (black, navy, olive, purple broken up by dashes of poppy red), with the occasional floral print (a Wu signature) and Coca-Cola graphic (a product of their partnership for the season).
"Our 'going out' now is going to the market. I wanted it to feel like chic strangers walking amongst this utopia of a beautiful general store," Wu says. "It was a little bit of a fantasy of mine."
The Coca-Cola partnership (in addition to being thematically-appropriate) fed into the nostalgic Americana thread that inspired Wu in the first place. "I wanted to make sure there was a link to an iconic American brand," he explains. "The fact that I got to go through their entire archive was really special... To reinterpret it in a way that wasn't just logos... It's like the Normal Rockwell paintings. I have so much love for all that stuff because I didn't grow up with it so I had to learn it. It's what made me want to be in the U.S."
A handful of the Coca-Cola prints among the line, which feature the brand name in different languages and its logos from around the world, also represent "what Americana means to me," says Wu: "We're a melting pot of different cultures. Even though it doesn't feel like it, that's why I love New York... It feels like you can experience every culture —[through] food to begin with, but so much more."
Like in September, he presented his contemporary range, versus his evening wear line, Jason Wu Collection. (He released his Spring 2021 collection for the latter earlier this year: "I wanted it to be closer to the release date of the product.") "If I were to show four months before the things are going to be in stores, I wanted to make sure that they're clothes that people can really relate to right now," he reasons. "It's really about the sign of the times."
"Also, for me, it's about showing a little range," Wu continues. "People always see me for that red-carpet moment — the very glamorous Jason Wu. But I also wanted to show that I can do everyday glamour. For example, this show had a huge emphasis on outerwear. I wanted to make sure that I showed range as a designer. People haven't seen that from me."
This was also the first time Wu had curve models on his New York Fashion Week runway. (Though, the designer has created capsule collections for Eloquii and sold on 11 Honoré.) "After the year we had in 2020, it felt like it wasn't just my duty as a fashion designer to show pretty clothes — we all love pretty clothes, but I also think it needs to be a representation of what's going on right now. Fashion has always been on the pulse of what's going on culturally. When we're talking about a very divisive country, I thought it was very important for me to represent all forms of beauty and be as diverse as possible on the runway."
See every single look from Jason Wu's Fall 2021 collection in the gallery, below.