“Immediately! It was crazy!” says Jason Wu when asked when, exactly, the phone started ringing on Inauguration Night. Wu had just opened the door for his Domino’s pepperoni pizza when he heard President Obama say, “First of all, how good-looking is my wife?” and turned to see First Lady Michelle Obama wearing his ivory silk organza gown. Wu managed not to drop the pizza, but an hour later, he had been contacted by three major networks, and by the next morning, he’d been on CNN, the Today show, and Good Morning America.
Taipei-born Wu has been intrigued by the fashion world since he was 9, when he moved to Vancouver with his mother and older brother and started reading fashion magazines. “That’s how I learned English,” he says now. “I wanted to read those articles. I wanted to read about designers! It pushed me to learn. I really didn’t speak a word.”
He went to Tokyo when he was 14 to study art, then to Paris for his final year of high school; that, not surprisingly, is where he decided to become a designer. He came to New York to attend Parson’s School of Design and stuck it out for three years but didn’t graduate. “I was a little restless,” he admits. He interned with Narciso Rodriguez in 2005, then—ambitiously—started his own company in 2006.
Financing his fledgling business and buying this modest midtown apartment were both made possible with help from his family. It’s very simply decorated, with gray walls and a gray sectional sofa in the living room; a red Eames chair from Vitra adds a spot of color. The kitchen and bath were the only things he altered: He enlarged the kitchen pass-through and removed the bathtub to make the bathroom more modern and streamlined. The space’s gray-on-gray palette is both simple and insistently spare, inadvertently echoing the similarly monotoned gray décor of Halston’s famous Paul Rudolph–designed townhouse. Wu’s apartment has no such grandeur, but it’s a calming little universe where he can savor what’s happening now, and relax with cooking. Watching Wu make an apple pie from scratch in his kitchen is a demonstration of his determination and focus. “I am a perfectionist,” he says with a smile as he tosses the fruit. “How the pie looks means as much as how it will taste.”
Though he’s very much on the rise right now, Wu isn’t interested in making the rounds of clubs and hot restaurants. He has enough obligatory business dinners that having friends over is a luxury, and cooking big, ambitious dinners a form of relaxation. There is one thing he has yet to master, though. “I’ve never succeeded in making macaroons,” he says. “I am obsessed with them. Although it’s something I like looking at more than eating.”