Adrian Wu is a designer known for his showmanship and eccentric designs. His work, while not often wearable, has a theatrical flair to it that sets him apart from his contemporaries. He has impact. His clothing is memorable. Only 22 years old, he burst onto the Canadian scene three years ago with a show at Vancouver Fashion Week. After deferring his acceptance into the prodigious Instituto Marangoni in London, of which only 20 people are admitted annually, he built a business and network in Toronto. Having shown twice already at Toronto Fashion Week, he’s become a notable, local culture figure. As he sits down for our interview, he’s genial and casually dressed.
As he sees it, the future of success in the industry is the blossoming relationship between designers and corporations. He believes strongly in corporate partnerships and fashion as advertisement. He’s already partnered with Perrier, Toms, and Allan Candy – designing collections for the latter two and accepting a sponsorship from the first. His rationale is that, according to his research, the fastest growing Canadian companies are in communications, while retail is relatively stagnant. Regarding potential creative conflicts with his clients, he shrugs it off, saying “I see these companies as a platform to grow my creative potential… How can I help their brand expand their historic attributes?” From a designer whose career is closer to Gareth Pugh than Joe Fresh, this is pleasantly unexpected.
When questioned about his reputation for being, at times, a bit pretentious, Adrian flatly states that he acknowledges it because, as he says, “I’m just 22 years old; what do I know about life?” The modesty of his response stands in stark contrast to the designer the public knew less than two years ago when, at his first showing at Toronto Fashion Week, he drew heavy criticism for his use of Guy Fawkes masks. The intended political message was considered confusing and overreaching. The Adrian today gives a far more mellow and introspective vibe.
Throughout our conversation he offhandedly references an eclectic collection of material, from TED Talks to tech journals. Each digression though, comes off sincerely in such a way that may be the key to understanding the nuances of his persona. He is, in a phrase, a self-educated guy. He mentions with evident pride that skipping school allowed him to retain his creativity, to make dress ideas that were more genuinely his. His aspirations to find some deeper meaning in his work and to find, as he puts it, “a scientific reason for why designers excel”, can be a bit trying, but more than that they’re genuine. He is the earnest autodidact, with the requisite charm and flaws. It’s unstructured curiosity. It would probably be fair to say that he strives to be a thinker, not just a businessman.
All things considered, he’s a fascinating character. Simultaneously down to earth and up in the clouds, Adrian Wu is someone whose growth will likely be as compelling as his strange and captivating dresses.