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November 17, 2017
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"Cashmere" Resort 2012. Source: adrianwu.com.
Adrian Wu. Source: adrianwu.com.

For 22-year-old Canadian designer Adrian WuToronto Fashion Week is a chance to experiment. The runway morphs into a laboratory, ideas are tested live and audiences are provoked. Meeting with retail buyers is always nice, but in an interview with The Genteel, Wu explains why his business is doing just fine without them.

Semhar Woldeyesus: Adrian, how did you get your start in fashion?

Adrian Wu: Well, I was basically having a mid-life crisis. I was studying to be a sex therapist [in university] and then I realised that it wasn't my passion. I dropped out [at the age of 18] and took up sewing. I got a sewing machine and I discovered that I could make dresses. I made 50 dresses in two months.

SW: What was the first dress you made?

AW: It was a purple, striped cocktail dress - it was so elegant and simple. I was sculpting with the fabric. I like drapery, I like heavy fabric - it's good taste. Fashion is the business of good taste. Everything should feel expensive. Not because of the actual cost of the fabric or the brand name, but I just want it [the dress] to feel expensive. That is why I liked it.

Fashion is the business of good taste. Everything should feel expensive. Not because of the actual cost of the fabric or the brand name, but I just want it [the dress] to feel expensive.

SW: Has your family been a big influence in the way you approach the business?

AW: Definitely. My mother is very fashionable. My grandmother was a famous carpet designer in Hong Kong, so [in a way], I am not really surprised. My father is the rationalist; my mother is more, like, "Enjoy life." She is the woman going into Burberry buying a $3,000 jacket...I grew up in those kinds of stores…hiding in the racks of Chanel and Dior and just playing around, waiting for my mother to finish shopping. I think a combination of the two perspectives definitely created who I am now.

SW: Being so fashionable, what are your mother's styling rules?

AW: Rule number one: stick to a couple of designers, don't be a brand whore. You don't need to get the Louis Vuitton belt that matches with the Louis Vuitton bag: experiment. Rule number two: be bold, not messy. My mother is very enticed by colours, but she would stick with a certain colour palette a day. Her styling has definitely influenced me, I mean, she has purple hair now.

SW: Seriously?

AW: Yes [laughing]. She is a very stylish lady.

SW: What is the inspiration behind your S/S 2013 collection?

AW: Dystopia. A dystopian society is a term used in science fiction; it's a fantasy. It's when you think about, "What would happen if a society had no ears?" Why is this important? Because I based the collection on a society within a video game called BioShock. It takes place in [the] 1950s [and 1960s]. I wondered, "What would happen if technology advanced very quickly?" There is a lot of discussion in the news right now about whether or not nuclear war is going to happen. So, basically, through my collection, I ask, "What if the Cuban missile crisis did actually happen? What would our society look like?" The dresses are made completely out of polyurethane, a plastic. So, I am actually referencing technology with the material. They are really deformed looking. But it's still set in the 1950s [and 1960s], so the models had cat eyes. Very classic.

"Hierarchy of Needs" Autumn/Winter 2012.
Source: adrianwu.com.

SW: How do you stay creative, as a designer?

AW: Picasso once said, "All children are born creative. It's staying creative as an adult that is the real challenge." [sic] And I completely agree with that; we become jaded by society. As you grow up, you start to come up with these ideas of normality and the irony of creativity is that there is no normal. Anything can be beautiful. Anything is [a] possibility. So, how do I stay creative? I read a lot. I research a lot. If you were to look at my design process, you would see that it's 90 per cent researching, and 10 per cent actually creating the object. Honestly; I really do my research. 

SW: What are the advantages to being a designer in Canada?

AW: The number one advantage is that we have corporate dominance. Meaning, there are companies based here that are huge parts of the international market. So there are huge opportunities to do collaborations with businesses that would not normally associate with a fashion brand or designer. Do you know how much Canada adds to the international fashion market? Meaning, of the world market: how many people buy Canadian? Less than one percent - did you know that?

Canadian fashion designers are not making any money. No one talks about it, [but] barely anyone is breaking even; almost no one.

SW: So, because of that, are you are forced to diversify?

AW: Well, Canadian fashion designers are not making any money. No one talks about it, [but] barely anyone is breaking even; almost no one. And that's why I don't sell my clothes. I am not ready to do that. As a designer, I am focusing more on creative, corporate collaborations. My latest project includes designing a lobby for this fashion house on Adelaide Street [in Toronto]. The developer asked the top eight designers in Canada to design a lobby and, in a way, that alone reflects where the economy is headed.

Toronto is the fastest growing residential economy in the world - after Dubai, it's Toronto. When people go into fashion and want to be designers, they are [usually] not thinking about this enough - "How do I want to make money?" It's one thing to create art and it's another thing to make money.

Let's face it; it costs money to do things. It costs money for my mind to manifest the things I want done. There are different tiers of luxury - everyone has a different idea of what is expensive. Fashion is a matter of perception. 

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