By Justine Woolcott
Photography by Kareen Mallon
Adrian Wu is intrigued by sex, inspired by everyday people and fascinated with history.
Sex is an important facet in each of Wu’s collections, but not in a typical way. When Wu speaks of sex, it is not in terms of what society deems sexy that intrigues him; instead, it’s what Wu refers to as “society-based gender clothing.”
He attempts to blur the lines as to what is acceptable for a man and a woman to wear.
“Gender limits fashion,” he says. “Why do women have to dress like this and men have to dress like that?”
Blurring the lines of socially acceptable clothing is one major component for the store he plans to launch in December 2011. Wu says he envisions a “fashion slash art gallery” that will have no gender-based clothing, and will be a store where men and women can buy the same clothing.
To do this, Wu has determined he needs to move to a different location.
As such, he is packing up his shop and moving to 57 Elm Street, in the heart of downtown Toronto to open up his gallery and boutique in December 2011.
The store will be a big change from his current studio in Burlington. Prior to Wu taking over the space two years ago, it was used as a small tanning salon. No renovations were done on the space when Wu set up the shop, yet it seems the space was built for him. Each of the former tanning rooms has its own purpose, whether it holds the microwave or scraps and reams of fabric.
The large open front room, which serves as a reception area for clients, is white-walled and decorated with mannequins, donning pieces from Wu’s collections, as well as clippings from magazines that serve as Wu’s inspiration.
“Burlington is convenient for me,” says Wu.
“But a lot of my clients are from the Toronto area, and that is where most of the Canadian fashion community is. So the studio will be convenient for them.”
Wu’s vision and relentless work have made him into something of an overnight sensation, and he freely admits to that.
One day, he was studying to be a sexologist at the University of Toronto, and the next: he was sewing in his mother’s basement.
Since he taught himself how to sew, he has quickly climbed up the ladder in the fashion industry, and in three short years has accomplished what many seasoned designers could only dream of.
He has showcased his work at the Vancouver Fashion Week and Ottawa Fashion Week; has been published in Style Diaries, a collection of fashion bloggers from around the world; and, perhaps most importantly, has managed to gain the respect of the majority of the Canadian fashion industry.
And Wu shows no signs of slowing down. He was recently invited by the Fashion Design Council of Canada to present his latest collection at the LG Fashion Week in Toronto in mid-October.
“The FDCC has done so much to create what is called the fashion industry [in Canada] right now, and I’m a huge advocate for that,” he says, while explaining why he chose to accept the invite. “I’m also really looking forward to working with Robin Kay.”
The collection Wu will be showing at the LG Fashion Week is inspired by quantum physics, he says.
“I’ve called the collection ‘Creatures of the Photon’,” says Wu.
He says he is fascinated by quantum physics because it is a measure of theory. The measure of theory is the only thing scientists are able to explain, and that philosophical idea really drew Wu in.
The now self-educated designer says he is very philosophical himself, and really developed a liking to the idea of quantum physics.
“So, I thought I could merge the two, fashion and quantum physics, to say: why can’t this, a fashion collection, be inspired by quantum physics?”
For Wu, Toronto Fashion Week is an honour, but it isn’t enough. He is submitting a collection to Paris Fashion Week to show his fall 2012 collection, and aims to be the youngest designer to ever show his work there. Garreth Pugh, whom Wu says he admires and looks up to, currently holds the title.
Although this would be a major accomplishment if Wu is successful, he says he realizes he must keep within his signature style in order to be happy about showing his clothing in Paris.
“I’ve tried to create a style that is called the Adrian Wu House. My design technique has a similarity but, at the same time, all [the clothing] is different. I feel like I always keep within my simplicity, silhouette and sexiness, at the same time.”
He adds that he created his signature style to help him achieve a specific goal.
“Every piece of clothing is a piece of history, and people don’t really realize that the button on the collar of men’s shirts originated from polo players, so the collar didn’t fly in their faces,” says Wu. “So I very much want to be a part of history and if the fame and the money comes, then it will come.”