Fashion Designer Jason Wu On Diamonds, RuPaul's Drag Race And That '90s Supermodel Reunion

The man behind Michelle Obama's inaugural ball gown chats to ELLE about summer camp, Barbie and his collaboration with Atelier Swarovski for the their tenth anniversary.

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If you know one thing about Jason Wu it'll more than likely feature a certain name: Michelle Obama.

Yes, the first lady wore his his white chiffon gown to her husband's first inauguration. Yes, Wu's name was propelled out of the insular world of fashion and into the masses on 20 January, 2009. But no, that's not all there is to know, of course.

Born in Taipei in Taiwan, he moved to Canada at the age of nine, and spoke no English. He started working as a teenager designing dolls — their clothes, hair and makeup — for Integrity Toys Inc. He then begged his mother to get him a sewing machine to make doll clothes, which subsequently kicked off his fashion education and, well, career.

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At the ripe old age of 24, Wu started his eponymously named brand with little to zero experience. 'There's a cockiness when you're young, you think you can do anything,' he tells ELLE, 'I think I'm more humble now.'

Ten years later and Wu is a household name, having dressed everyone from Karlie Kloss to Bella Hadid and muse (and best friend) Diane Kruger.

Last week, ELLE met the man himself at Atelier Swarovski HQ in Paris to talk supermodels, summer camp and chat through his new 'Mosaic' jewellery SS18 collection.

You've just made it through New York Fashion Week. How are you feeling?

Great, thank you, but it feels like forever ago...it was only two weeks ago!

In the current climate, do you feel more pressure to make a political statement?

I don't really like to make political statements with my fashion shows. I want to make clothes and I want to make statements in my own life whereby I do things that actually make a difference. I just don't want to be loud about it, I don't feel like it's my place.

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Back in a 2013 interview you said 'I love a little tits and ass' when asked about the curvier models you use. Does it feel like others are now jumping on the bandwagon?

I've always dressed women, so I don't want to make anything that I should be doing anyway into a marketing opportunity. I just feel like it's what I do anyway, you know? And in that respect I really let the clothes speak for themselves. I don't try to put messages on them, I don't try to do a stunt-y cast.

People lost their minds over the OG '90s supermodel reunion last week at Versace. Why do you think that is?

I'm obsessed with that show. I actually texted the casting director like 'you made my dreams come true'. I moved to New York in the nineties, so I had this infatuation with the '90s supermodels because that was such a great time in fashion, and the fact that they still look the way they do is amazing. But also, it was an era when fashion was so decadent, so over the top, you know? And I think that's why people keep going back to it.

I definitely love models with a personality. My campaigns have featured everyone from Stephanie Seymour to Christy Turlington and Karlie Kloss. I don't like girls who are a blank canvas, I like to work with the women with personality when I dress them.

Karlie Kloss wearing the Jason Wu Atelier Swarovski collection

You've also collaborated with Atelier Swarovski for the second time. What drew you back?

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Well Swarovski is 10 years old, and so am I. Well I'm not ten-years-old, but my brand is celebrating it's tenth birthday, and so we thought it would be a good time to collaborate again.

You said this jewellery is the epitome of the Jason Wu woman. Who is the Jason Wu woman?

Strong, sophisticated, sensual and very powerful. She definitely asserts herself and I think these are qualities I really look for and respect.

Is it a cliché to say diamonds are a girl's best friend?

No. Diamonds are 100% a girl's best friend.

What's the most important thing to have in your office?

Can I have two? Coffee and music. And anything after six, I'll put on candles. I have to set the scene. If we're working till 9 and ten at night, I need a little mood.

What sort of music are we talking?

Everything from One Direction to classical music.

What question are you sick of answering already?

'So, tell me about the inauguration dress.' And I'm like, I've said it so many times, you can just read it. Over and over again. And they're like 'yeah, but, we want to hear it from you.' And then it's like 'oh, so you designed a second dress for her, right?'

Do your parents wish you had done something else when you were growing up?

I think, like all Asian parents, they wanted me to be an accountant or a lawyer, or some sort of business person. But once I got past six-years-old they realised that just wasn't going to happen. It was like, 'here's a calculator and here's a Barbie doll'- I always picked the Barbie. My direction was very clear.

What memory from school sticks out the most for you?

Does summer camp count? My parents sent me to summer school camp in New Hampshire when I was eight and I didn't speak a lot of English. I lived in Taiwan before, and we're culturally not very outdoorsy in Taiwan, and I had to live outside in a tent. So I was in shell shock, you know? All the kids packed their clothes in a trunk - it's like a very American thing - I had a Tumi, that's how out of place I was. I was like, where have I gone?

Don't they last all summer..?

One month. Shocking. I had to do sports. I went to nature. And then I had to do more sports.

You've turned down being a judge on RuPaul's Drag Race before, right?

Yes, but only because they film in the summer and it's right before fashion week. RuPaul's Drag Race is literally my favourite show in the entire world. Again, I moved to the states during the supermodel era so 'Supermodel of the World' [the debut studio album by American drag queen RuPaul] was one of the first CD's I ever owned. My mum bought it for me, can you believe that?

Will you ever go on as a judge?

Absolutely. I would do it in a heartbeat. I want to go on next year.

What would your drag name be?

Terry-Yaki. Get it?

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