- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Although wunderkind fashion designer Jason Wu owes his catapult to fame to first lady Michelle Obama, he has broken decisively from ladylike knee-length sheaths. Instead, the rebel clothier’s new resort collection features thigh-high hemlines inspired by his lifelong love of fairy tales and all things eccentric.

“You could say my fall collection had a retro element in that I was inspired by classic fairy tales and Brothers Grimm-style silhouettes, but I wanted to rework that look in a modern, fresh way,” says Mr. Wu, who got his start designing clothes for dolls.

“Part of what got me thinking about fairy tales was a book of Arthur Rackham illustrations I loved when I was a child,” he says, referring to the British illustrator of classic children’s tales and legends.

Mr. Wu cites the “the quirky-chic look” of 86-year-old Manhattan socialite and fashion icon Iris Apfel as another inspiration for his new line. He stresses, however, that “though I definitely take creative cues from past decades, I’m not interested in literally channeling any famous fashion figures.”

Despite the onslaught of attention the young designer has received in the wake of designing the white goddess-style gown Mrs. Obama wore on inauguration night and the magenta sleeveless sheath she wore on the March cover of Vogue, Mr. Wu says his success has been rising “over the past two years.”

His resort collection is his first since sudden fame descended on him. It is a celebration of “how far we’ve come with a colorful, eccentric collection that blurs the lines between day and evening dressing,” says the former Parsons School of Design student, who interned under Narciso Rodriguez, who shot to fame when he was tapped by Carolyn Bessette to design the gown for her 1996 wedding to John F. Kennedy Jr.

The new line captures the simple, feminine elements that have made his designs so appealing to a president’s wife. However, this time around, his skirts and dresses show a daring amount of leg — too much for Washington women, who dress more conservatively than their New York or Los Angeles counterparts?

Mr. Wu isn’t worried.

“I think D.C. style is very similar to what I see here in New York — a lot of classic tailoring and interesting use of color,” he says. “It’s fun to see how women in different cities express themselves through dressing.”

His new line combines austere fitted jackets with frilly skirts, belted trench coats, and cheerful frocks with cinched waists. These stark contrasts and bold combinations are not coincidental.

“I’m a big fan of color mixing and matching — or mismatching, rather!” he exclaims. “My last spring collection definitely reflected my love of bright colors. I worked with a lot of fuchsia, violet and bright yellow.”

Mr. Wu says women this summer should feel free to expose themselves to different options for evening dressing and use one of Mrs. Obama’s favorite accessories, the cardigan.

“Cocktail dresses are obviously one of my favorite pieces to design, but for resort [wear], I actually worked with a lot of separates — knits, draped chiffon skirts, in highlighter-bright colors,” he says. “I think separates allow for the best transitional outfits — those that can go from day to night just by adding a cardigan or swapping out a skirt.”