It’s déjà vu all over again with designer Jason Wu’s new contemporary line Miss Wu, introduced on January 7 and being exclusively sold through Nordstrom [both in stores and online] for one year. That is, its mod girly vibe feels very 1960’s, an image Wu has played up by having his models photographed sporting floppy-brimmed hats and long straight hair.
Wu first sprang into the fashion spotlight when Michelle Obama wore his ethereal white chiffon gown, embellished with organza flowers and crystals, to her husband’s 2008 inaugural ball. The dress was romantic (some fashion critics compared it to a wedding gown); at the time Wu told CNN, “It’s all a little dreamlike, and we’re making history, and I wanted to really reflect that.”
Now the 30-year-old Wu has reached back in history for inspiration, to a time that occurred decades before he was born: Swinging London of the `60s. Evidently Wu was inspired by photographs of two iconic style setters of that time: singer Marianne Faithfull and actress Jane Birkin. Both of them were advocates of mini skirts, A-line dresses, floral prints, and simple designs topped with girlish details like bows. (Birkin continued her style influence: In the 1980s, Hermes also made a large leather bag for her after she spilled the contents of multiple tote bags on a flight from London to Paris while sitting next to Hermes’ chief executive. Now the bag is a $10,000 status symbol.)
The Miss Wu collection (named after his owl logo) consists of 40 pieces, priced from $195 $795. Wu has called this collection “slightly more downtown and with a more relaxed attitude.” Nordstrom is calling it “modern gamine.” Many of the designs mix a youthful look with quality materials. For example, there is a playful short leather circle skirt ($545) and a stunning sleeveless shift dress made with embroidered faille ($525), the twinkling bead-centered dots cascade unevenly from the waist to the hem. There are trench coats that close with a sash instead of a belt or gather in the back with a bow (both $595).
But many of the clothes could be easily be embraced by a shopper of any age. Favorite possibilities include: the print floral silk tank ($245), the lace yoke cashmere sweater ($325), a Crepe de Chine blouse ($195), and some ever-versatile skinny black pants ($245). The leather motorcycle jacket ($795) is dreamy, with quilted shoulders and princess seaming set off by grosgrain trim. Even some of the simpler Miss Wu pieces have great versatility; the A-line green-tweedy “modern weave” dress ($425) was worn by the First Lady at a campaign appearance this past October, before the collection had hit Nordstrom. (She rocked the figure-flattering princess-seamed dress with a colorful print cardigan and a chunky brass and stone necklace by Lulu Frost.) Yet it would also be a go-to-work dress.
The advantages of Miss Wu are obvious. Wu’s main line is fabulous but so pricey that most of can only enjoy the photos of the sheath dresses and ball gowns. And his one-off Target line in 2012 was witty and affordable, but veered towards a campy secretarial-school look that was hard to wear. Miss Wu gives shoppers a chance to purchase engaging designs in quality fabrics from a bold name designer. Once again, he may be making history.