The image of a gentleman designer dressing his muse — or at least his most faithful female customers — with resolute attention is both charming and antiquated. Yet the idea refuses to die because designers, the male ones at least, are routinely asked by writers to describe their ideal woman — as if the many women they are asking to pay thousands of dollars for a simple dress are akin to collectible Barbies. And so the image of the doting yet domineering designer lingers, luring creative souls into the business again and again as they try to step into that role.
When Jason Wu first came to prominence, he was a young designer who seemed to be casting himself as a kind of fresh-faced Pygmalion. He quickly became known as someone aspiring to walk in the footsteps of Oscar de la Renta, a man who often comes across as a charmingly blunt fashion dictator. And Wu's clothes certainly do exude old-school glamour from a time when women revered their dressmaker.
Aesthetically, Wu also represented continuity — the industry’s sweet affection for great beauties and social swans was safe. His first few collections had a precious quality — loaded with lace and tulle, as well as proper tweeds — that disconnected from a gritty reality that today even the wealthy cannot completely avoid. The era of the cosseted woman ended long ago. And while the fashion industry does its best to keep up pretenses, with gazelle-like women prancing into fashion shows on strappy heels and carrying expensive handbags, everyone knows that as soon as the show ends these exquisite creatures will round a corner and disappear from sight, slipping out of those fancy shoes and into flats.
Last spring, when Wu edged away from his earlier rose-colored vision to explore his darker side, his collections became better for it. They still appeal to the rare bird of paradise, but they now have a solidity and grace that can also speak to a professional.
Wu's spring 2014 show was inspired by the tension between construction and ease. A khaki-colored pencil skirt played nicely against a gold sequined tank. Corset detailing through the bustline grounded an ivory slip dress. A sapphire skirt, sprayed with paillettes, brought fresh verve to a similarly colored ribbed sweater. And large insets of lace saved a swingy little black dress from banality.
This collection was not Wu’s best. There have been others in which he has displayed more daring — as when he loosed his imagination in the photography of Helmut Newton. Yet this time, while the clothes were not the stars of the runway; the women were. The muse revolted.
Wu opened his show with the red-haired model Karen Elson. Her curvy body, more substantial than today’s reed-thin mannequins but no less beautiful, suggested maturity and strength. Now in her 30s, Elson, wearing a bias cut halter dress embroidered in gold spangles, had presence on the runway. Hilary Rhoda soon followed in a slim suede skirt and gilded tank top that showed off her impressive, chiseled arms. As Wu's most famous client First Lady Michelle Obama has informed the world, there is something captivating about a woman with sculpted arms. Her physicality can be intimidating; her strength is obvious; her confidence is assumed.
Wu’s models were not a cast of unknowns plucked from the rainforest. These women had walked countless runways. But in the cut of Wu’s clothes, which was comfortable but not oversized, the simplicity of the styling and the beauty of the makeup, the models looked at ease. By the time Karlie Kloss appeared — the penultimate model down the runway — wearing a pale sage tank gown with a billowing, embroidered hem, it was impossible not to watch her every move. Kloss is known for her elegant strut, but as she passed by, it was the rear view that was especially spectacular. That tush! In that dress! It was quite something to behold in all of its unabashed glory — not because it was sexually provocative but because it was like watching a sprinter in retreat.
When the show ended and the diminutive Wu took his bows in his dark, tailored jacket, he headed backstage where well-wishers crowded around. He posed for a photograph with the tennis star Maria Sharapova. She towered over him, but he did not seem to mind. The designer’s runway had been filled with imposing, powerful women. They had dutifully shown off his aesthetic vision. But they’d made themselves unforgettable.BEGIN SLIDESHOW
Most Viewed Stories
Mary-Kate Olsen Strains Every Muscle in Her Face in an Attempt to Smile
The Fashion Executive Who Doesn’t Wear Underwear on Dates
25 Famous Women on Being Alone
22 Intimate Lost Photos of Marilyn Monroe
Prince George Has No Time for Justin Trudeau’s High Fives
How Angelina Jolie Won the First Big Battle in Her Divorce
It’s Time to Get Over Your White Feelings and Start Taking Action for Black Lives
2009 Called — It Wants Its Vogue-Versus-Bloggers Fight Back.
Madame Clairevoyant: Horoscopes for the Week of September 26
The Will & Grace Reunion Was Intensely Documented for Social Media
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Fashion FeaturesCiara's Wedding Dress Was Too Big for the Chapel
To be fair, it was a 13 foot-long dress.You and Rihanna Will Both Want to Invest in Dior’s New Bag
It's got something for everyone.Polo Shirts Have Turned Their Back on Ryan Lochte
Along with his other major sponsors.Ryan Lochte Will No Longer Be Paid to Wear Tiny Bathing Suits
Speedo remains committed to transparency.Laura Brown Is the New Editor-in-Chief of InStyle
After 11 years at Harper’s Bazaar.Tyra Banks Is Going to Teach a Class on Smizing at Stanford
"If I see somebody not paying attention, I’m gonna call on them."This Floating Pier Is the Most Zen Installation Ever
Walking on water in Italy.Nation Is Appalled by Matt Lauer’s Nude Ankles During Ryan Lochte Interview
What’s the opposite of “Jeah”?8 People at the Life of Pablo Pop-up Explain Why Kanye West Is a God
"I mean, Kanye West is just Kanye West. There's not more or less you can say about Kanye West. He's just Mr. West!"A T-shirt Is Enough
Simplicity, versatility, and cool. What more could you want?
She took a perfect pencil dive off a 30-foot yacht.American Apparel Is Being Sued by Former Workers
As the company considers putting itself up for sale.A Gendered History of the Tailored Suit
From Marlon Brando to Coco Chanel.How Zendaya Developed Such Great Style at the Young Age of 19
The star's best looks from Disney to now.Proof That If You’re Chic Enough, a Little Federal Investigation Doesn’t Matter
Is this the best they could do?5,300-Year-Old Mummified Iceman Probably Would’ve Been a Street-Style Star
He had several different looks and was “pretty picky.”J.Crew Has Identified 226 Shades of Pink
Even more than there are shades of gray.Gigi and Bella Hadid Merch Is Now Somehow a Thing That Is Happening
Today in Hadidiana.Gird Your Loins for the Return of Yeezy to New York Fashion Week
The season approaches.This Indie Brand Had a Great Response to Ivanka Trump
When she bought one of their cuffs, they donated the proceeds to the Clinton campaign.