Wu’s The Boss
After revolutionizing the look of Hugo Boss’ womenswear, Jason Wu’s vision grows stronger by the season. The designer explains his grand plan.
Prior to working at Hugo Boss, what were your impressions of the brand?
I grew up wearing Hugo Boss suits, so the idea of Boss’ really strong menswear with very precise tailoring made a big impression.
Who approached you for the position?
A headhunter! At the time, I wasn’t super clear about what the company was doing with the womenswear, but Christoph Auhagen, the chief brand officer who is now my boss, really sold me on his vision. Once I got the picture of how we could make womenswear an even bigger part of the business, I was really excited.
Sales are up considerably, no?
I’m not supposed to comment on that. Double-digit growth, for sure, and the business was already big. On that scale, especially, it’s great.
Your first show made quite a splash. What was your vision?
At the time, Boss womenswear was not really recognized on a map per se from the editors’ point of view, and probably, to a certain degree, it wasn’t very familiar to consumers as well. It’s been around for about 10 years, but the company has been around for 90 years. My vision was to assert a point of view in a crowded womenswear market. It was important to have a strong menswear DNA, and to focus on tailoring, which is what the brand is best known for. A lot of the looks almost came from menswear, but they were feminized, and done in smaller proportions. We had to establish who the Hugo Boss woman is, exactly. Having Edie Campbell on exclusive for the first season was really important for me, because I thought she embodied that modern woman who feels quintessentially Boss. So much so that I brought her back again for the campaign.
When were you first struck by the power of the brand?
When I went to the campus in Metzingen. We have our own coffee shop there! [Laughs] Hugo Boss has incredible scale, not only in fashion but in art, architecture, and sports. The brand dresses the entire German football team, who won the World Cup, things like that. I’m really taking advantage of all the company’s activities to tell the story.
What’s the campus like?
It’s suburban—very green and picturesque. Driving there from the airport, it’s just fields and fields of green. And when you arrive at Boss, it’s a metropolis of glass buildings, with perfectly manicured land. It’s really incredible. A lot of the inspiration for my first collections came from the campus, and that juxtaposition between nature and architecture. Do you know that movie Gattaca? That’s what I think it looks like. All of the men dress in suits.
What do you wear when you go there?
This [points to his jeans and navy blue shirt]. I’m the only one who’s casual. I’m bringing American sportswear to Germany. [Laughs] No, seriously—the guys I work with wear very sharp suits, and the hair is all done.
How are you perceived in Germany?
As a designer, and with my appointment at Hugo Boss, my name has become increasingly recognized. This was, and still is, a big opportunity for me to design differently. I’m known as a very, very feminine designer, and not to say what I’m doing here isn’t feminine, but it’s a different approach—more restrained, more strict. It’s very different from the way I was perceived before, and it’s fun to be two different people sometimes.
You’ve become even more involved in the visual merchandising.
At the campus in Metzingen, there’s a shop I can build out. As a child in the ’90s, I loved to make fake shops, so to be able to merchandise a store in a very real way is massive. Last year, I spent a lot of time translating the new vision into everything else—the stores, the mannequins, the way the brand is presented. I also worked on other categories, such as sunglasses and watches, and I’ve been working on fragrance.
What was it like to create a fragrance?
I worked with a “nose” and started by smelling a bunch of different options. The smallest details can change the entire juice. Creating the bottle is a lot of fun, because the bottle tells the whole story, even before you get around to smelling it.
With power comes responsibility, and a lot of people pay attention to Hugo Boss’ numbers. Does that give you anxiety?
No. The commerce side is important, and it does place pressure, but I’m really used to that—I’ve had my own business for the past eight years, so I’m comfortable with expectations. I try not to think too much about it and concentrate on the design vision.
How do you divide your time?
I’m back and forth between the Jason Wu studio and my Hugo Boss studio—they’re right down the street from each other. Here, at my design studio, is our think tank—a mini lab where we work on ideas. The team here works closely with my design team in Germany, and I go to Germany once a month. My mornings start as soon as I get up—there are e-mails coming in beginning at 7 a.m., and everything is urgent.
Do you wake up early?
Now I do. I wasn’t an early morning person, but this job has given me two things—now, I’m fully alert by 7, because in Europe, it’s already late in the day. I work until at least 1 a.m. every day.
Are you chronically exhausted?
No! I’m chronically energetic. I’m hyper like that.
How many iced coffees do you drink a day?
Not bad. What kind of celebrities do you want to dress in Hugo Boss?
For me, it’s really about working with people who are on top of their game. In the front row of my first show, we had Gwyneth Paltrow, Diane Kruger, and Reese Witherspoon. Reese is a friend—I worked with her for a long time with my own brand—so I called her and invited her. It was her first fashion show! Diane is another one of my longtime collaborators, and she’s German, which is quite perfect. Last season, we had Dakota Johnson and Julianne Moore. Theo James was the first guy I brought over to the brand, and he’s going to be the next big male superstar. He looks incredible, and he’s so charismatic—really cool and talented.
Natasha Poly is starring in your fragrance campaign. How involved are you in that part of the business?
Very. It was my first collaboration with Mert & Marcus, and the idea was to create something very sensual, but with the polish that an international fragrance campaign needs. The amber tone gave it a certain warmth.
You also collaborated with Darren Aronofsky on a short film about the fragrance.
That was a dream come true—really fun, and very collaborative from beginning to end.
What’s your big push in accessories?
The Bespoke bag. It has the technical, industrial look I’ve really been working on, but it’s elegant and feminine. The idea of a lock was inspired by a cuff from the menswear archive, and that was our starting point.
What does the Boss woman carry in her handbag?
A lipstick, a good book, our fragrance, obviously, and at least two phones.
Are you still using two phones?
Of course. One is for Boss, and the other has “JW” on the back.
One for each pocket!
No, I’m always holding both of them. It’s like I’m constantly shuffling cards.
So how are you relaxing?
I’m lucky—I know a lot of people say that—but I like to do a lot of things. I’m not good at relaxing. Staying on the beach is really difficult for me. But I did stay home all day on Sunday and watched America’s Got Talent!
As of last summer, you were still living in the same apartment you’ve had since you moved to the city. Any plans to upgrade?
I just moved downtown! But I’m still keeping that apartment—it’s been my good luck charm.