5 Questions for Jason Wu

Jason Wu is getting serious about accessories. The 29-year-old designer, known for his feminine ready-to-wear looks, red-carpet styles and recent Target collaboration, is multiplying his shoe and handbag collections for pre-fall ’12.

“We decided it was important for us to take it to the next level,” Wu said in his New York showroom. “We listened to the advice that was given to us by industry professionals and the people who have guided me through my ready-to-wear career.”

Wu significantly grew his collection since launching accessories last spring, expanding footwear by 50 percent for pre-fall alone. Retailing for $595 to $1,285, his line of sleek sandals with pheasant feathers, lace-up ankle boots and patent brogues with pops of color will now be available at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

“The best part is that we continue to make it better every season, and people are responding to it,” he said. “That’s the most encouraging part.”

The Council of Fashion Designers of America, in particular, has taken notice. Less than a year after debuting shoes and handbags, Wu was nominated for the Swarovski Award for Accessory Design in 2011. And while he had already taken home the Swarovski Award for Womenswear in 2010, Wu said he was surprised to be recognized for a category he had just introduced. Nonetheless, this designer insists on pushing himself further each season.

“You stop growing if you stop challenging yourself,” Wu said. “I’m not the type of person to do that.”

Here, he discusses the challenges and benefits of going deep in the accessories category.

What are some of the hurdles you’ve overcome in accessories?
JW:
In the beginning, I had a very small, focused collection of shoes that were only really meant to complement the runway collection. Two or three seasons into the collection, I got a lot of buyers’ feedback, and I learned [what is] necessary to make a shoe business work: Translate a great runway message to actual sales. I learned, just as I did from designing clothes, what women want. I worked hard with my team to develop a collection that makes sense for the market and the different kinds of women who wear our clothes. We found a really nice balance to translate the DNA of the clothes and spirit of our collection into the shoes.

How are you keeping the accessories consistent with your apparel?
JW:
My ready-to-wear collection is all made in America with Italian and French materials. I have this idea to keep things made by artisans — people who have [lifelong] experience. I did the same thing with the shoes. I went to Florence for the shoes and Naples for the bags. I stayed in factories for a few weeks and learned from the best people. I did it in the most traditional way I knew how. It was super important to have that kind of craft, to not be mass produced. In that way, the accessories are made and manufactured with the same spirit of my ready-to-wear collection. And I feel like our quality withstands scrutiny.

Why did you choose to produce the collection yourself rather than work with a licensing company?
JW:
[The accessories are] such close partners with the ready-to-wear that I couldn’t think of a reason to not [produce the collection] myself. And I felt that was the only way we could protect the integrity of what we do here. The line needs to be distributed [together] and then sit in the same places where I sell my clothes. And it’s important that the accessories be sold and marketed the same way.

Given your existing relationships with top retailers, how has your accessories line fared?
JW:
It was an uphill climb in the beginning; it wasn’t an easy sell. We couldn’t just do the runway shoes. We had to give an assortment that was true to the spirit of Jason Wu, so that when you go to the store you know immediately what the collection is about. But Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus have been my biggest supporters — and Nordstrom and Jeffrey. [These are retailers] that frankly have a huge share of the fashion-accessories market. To get their approval was pretty amazing because, although they supported my ready-to-wear collection and we have a long-standing relationship, we all had to look at this as a different business. Plus, there are different buyers.

Has your CFDA nomination for accessories design influenced your work in the category?
JW:
That was amazing. It’s really flattering to be recognized in a category where there are serious accessory people — and it’s not just shoes or handbags; it’s everything. It validates why I do it and why I want to continue to challenge myself and make it better.

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