Jason Wu And The Julian Center Spread Empowerment Through Fashion

Photography by Tony Valainis

The Julian Center, an Indianapolis nonprofit that works to empower survivors of domestic and sexual violence, hosted its first runway show and luncheon at the Hyatt Regency downtown last Thursday. Set in the hotel’s luxe ballroom, sharply dressed attendees populated the mood-lit space, filled with Saks Fifth Avenue goodie bags atop pristine linen-covered tables. Excited chatter filled the air, but not only for the delicious lunch to be served or upcoming styling competition. The big buzz around the event was for its guest of honor, fashion designer Jason Wu.

Wu, a Taiwanese-Canadian based in New York City, is widely known for dressing Hollywood’s elite, as well as former first lady Michelle Obama. At the 2008 presidential inauguration, Michelle donned a white floor-length gown with a one-shoulder neckline and delicate appliqué throughout. The look, which wowed audiences, propelled Wu to the world’s stage.

In 2006, prior to his inaugural-night breakthrough, Wu began lending his design talents to Indianapolis-based Brizo, a luxury subsidiary of Delta Faucet Company. “What I love about Brizo is that they believe in living fashion and have an inherent understanding of great design,” Wu said. Six years later, the Jason Wu for Brizo bath collection launched. The line boasts designs that are chic and timeless. “I like to call it ‘the little black dress of faucets.’ The matte black finish felt ahead of the curve, but classic and completely functional at the same time.”

Though he’s only spent a bit of time in Indiana through his Brizo connection, Wu has a sincere fondness for the Midwest. “I’m an avid cook and love throwing dinner parties and entertaining. That is definitely something I can relate to with the Midwest and the sense of hospitality that you find here.”

Wu is no stranger to giving back. He currently sits on the Board of Directors at ACRIA and Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), which help to educate and provide further understanding of the newest developments in the fight against AIDS. President and Julian Center CEO Catherine O’Connor said Wu was the perfect person to help champion the message of empowerment that the nonprofit shares. As O’Connor explained, “domestic and sexual violence is persistent and pervasive throughout our community. Everyone in the community is impacted in one way or another.” Wu echoed the values of the cause. “It is important to bring awareness to these issues that have lived in the shadows for so long, especially ones like this that affect so many men and women that we all know. Speaking out against domestic and sexual abuse, and empowering survivors to tell their stories, will help future victims feel like there is help out there.”

Wu seeks to provide an avenue of self-expression to every woman. “People today have the power to choose how to project their image, either embracing or rejecting traditionalism. But really, it’s about using fashion as a tool for empowerment,” he said. His signature upscale designs showcase flirty and feminine silhouettes crafted from light-as-air fabrics, which are often printed or embellished. In the wake of controversy surrounding the fashion industry and its selective sizing, Wu has stepped into the spotlight as a game-changer, supporting women of all shapes in their dress. He recently released his spring collection for plus-size line Eloquii, making his designs available to women sizes 14 to 28. “I’ve always been dedicated to celebrating the female form and have built my brand on creating pieces for women who are not only fashionable, but also own their power and femininity. Women of all sizes are beautiful and should be celebrated with access to high-end luxury.”

Many budding fashion designers look to Wu for inspiration. His sartorial sensibility and commitment to his craft are what anyone would aspire to attain. Of his rise to fame, Wu said, “We have to know our past before we create our future. Success comes from a lot of hard work, dedication, curiosity, and a sincere interest in the art of fashion design. I never give up learning and always consider myself as a student.” For those looking to enter the fashion industry, Wu advised that it’s important to focus on both the art and commerce sides of fashion, something that many young designers are actively practicing as a pivotal factor in maintaining and growing a business today. He says, “Trust your instincts—it is important to have conviction in your design aesthetic and always stay true to that vision. I am very proud to see what the label and our team has accomplished—and I feel like my journey is still evolving every single day.”

Following the successful event, Wu announced that he would donate several of his dresses to The Julian Center’s charity shop, Thrifty Threads. To see Jason Wu’s designs, visit his website here. To support The Julian Center, visit its website here.

Photo gallery by Tony Valainis: