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Monday, 13 February 2012

NYFW Fall 2012: Jason Wu.

This season Jason Wu decided to explore his Chinese roots, giving the fashion community ample opportunity to partake in one of their lesser-known hobbies: mildly racist commentary. Sorry, guys, "mysterious" and "ethnic" are not synonumous with "Chinese" in any way, shape or form. Go directly to Vocabulary Jail; do not collect 200 Fashion Dollars.

The show was divided into three themes, the first being the military of Mao-era China. The colour palette was obvious: the green-grey of military uniforms, and the red of Communism.
A lot of the time a designer's original inspiration is so obscure (cf. Gary Graham's Iranian wrestling tunics/Manchester Film Festival inspiration for his recent NYFW show) that it adds relatively little to my interpretation of a collection. In this case it added a certain coherency that might not otherwise have been apparent since it was genuinely helpful to see the demarcation between Wu's favoured three periods of Chinese history

Without Wu's explanation of the show's theme(s) it wouldn't have been nearly so highly rated overall. The individual clothes didn't stray far from acceptable RTW norms, but as a complete unit the collection was a pleasure to watch. I suggest checking out the show footage once you've read this, if only to catch the stomping army of models marching down the runway for the finale.
Tailoring was the main focus of the Mao section, in keeping with the uniform theme and a desire for severity. The only frivolous notes were lace patterns on some of the jackets, which reappeared later in the show to tie the three time-period elements together.
The second section centred around the Qing Dynasty. I wasn't completely on board with this one, as the hats seemed way too pastichey (what would you think of someone wearing one of these in real life?) and on a basic aesthetic level the cut of the trousers didn't appeal to me at all.

The third and final inspiration: the false Hollywood impression of China, brought on by films like Shanghai Express in the 1930s and '40s. Marlene Dietrich, enveloped in an opulent cloud of fur coats. Anna May Wong, and the cheongsam. A show like this was more or less obliged to include a cheongsam or two, but I'm not surprised that only a couple were included. The history of the cheongsam is so riddled with appropriation and re-appropriation and redesign and the conflict between practicality and high-end fashion that despite the fact that it's often known merely as "the Chinese dress", there isn't really any such thing as "the original cheongsam" to work from. Which I guess was sort of the point of this third and final theme -- the inauthentic Hollywood portrayal of Chinese fashion in the form of luxurious Shanghai eveningwear.

The kind of melodrama Wu provided with the 1940s-glamour gowns made me hope that he's going to continue in this vein in future seasons. It's certainly something that appeals to my personal taste more than his usual sportswear, although a lot of the first two thirds of the show would undoubtedly still appeal to those audiences.
It seemed to me that the final outfit tied together the three themes of the show: the militaristic neatness of the jacket combined with the sultry Golden Age Hollywood skirt of the gown, plus the more old-fashioned gold detailing on the chest and shoulders.


  1. The dress in the Qing dynasty section is gorgeous and I would try to find a reason to wear it EVERYWHERE.

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