With a cymbal crash, an enormous set of doors bathed in red light opened at Jason Wu and the first model stepped out wearing a military green wool cape coat overlaid in black lace, with long silk tassels dangling from her ears. We were in China. But before you go assuming that this was another grab for the Asian country's gangbusters market (Louis Vuitton's Spring '11 show comes to mind), remember that Wu was born on the neighboring island of Taiwan and didn't learn English until he was 10 and had moved to Canada.
Before the show, his most confident to date, Wu explained that he went back to Taiwan a year ago with his dad and that the trip had him asking himself, What is Chinese? "It's a funny question for a Chinese person to answer," he said. Maybe that's why he came up with three different ideas. There's the military China, which inspired the Mao jackets and shirts, as well as the army green and red palette of the sportswear that dominated the collection. The belted puffy jacket with armorlike quilting on the shoulders is destined to be a hit. There's the historical China of the Qing Dynasty, which informed the lushly opulent embroideries that Wu has made his calling card—that was shaved black mink embroidered onto the front of the epaulet dress that was the show's most winning piece. And there's the thirties and forties Hollywood version of China. "Inauthentic," the designer called it.
"Anna May Wrong," snarked one onlooker in the audience, playing on the name of the Asian-American movie star who was often cast in the role of the "exotic" in that era. And yet, from the looks of Arizona Muse's strange tasseled hat with the gold knob on top, Wu just may be in on the joke. Certainly, the red and black lace evening dresses were more florid than anything we've seen from him before. But if those numbers will be too costumey for Wu's crowd, there was plenty of that reliably strong sportswear to march away with.