Inside designer Adrian Wu’s new Toronto studio
By Karolyne Ellacott
Adrian Wu (Images: Karolyne Ellacott)
Known for his unconventional, intellectual and distinct point of view, designer Adrian Wu has lofty aspirations and has been pinpointed as one to watch. In 2010, after being accepted into the prestigious Istituto Marangoni fashion school, Wu did a 180, opting to open up shop in Burlington (yes, that Burlington) instead. Having recently moved to the big city, we popped into his new downtown studio space to chat with the young designer.
You recently moved from to Toronto from Burlington, where you had a store. Why the move now?
My parents live in Burlington, and my father owns the property, so it was convenient for me. But this is really where everything happens.
You’ve noted in the past that much of your success has been due to your parents’ support.
My parents are my biggest support. You don’t think of Shakespeare having a father. People will forget that my mother and father are 90 per cent of my life. I make them call me every day because they help and inspire me — such a cheesy, pretentious word — but they are in my life all the time. My mother’s influenced me with her vintage style and her constant education in how to dress; my father has done so with his realism.
You’re known for your ability to work at a rapid-fire pace. How many collections have you designed now?
I’ve done 12 collections now — four a year. That [points over to a plastic concoction in the centre of the room] took me two hours. It’s a quick process for me. I’m a firm believer in my work speaking for itself; I’ll move forward and reach a greater audience by producing a lot of work.
What do you aim to do with your work?
With my work, I love contradiction. My high school art teacher said that good art is contradiction. It makes you think.
Now that Fashion Week is far behind us, what are you currently working on?
I’m doing a collaboration with menswear designer (and recent Ryerson grad) Erin Holman and architect Christos Marcopoulos from the conceptual architecture firm studio (n-1). Marcopoulos invented this machine where the chair that you sit on absorbs the smell of a person. It’s fed through a tube and then sprayed through a [clothed] mannequin. It’s a conceptual idea of creating clothes through your smell. We’re making a very androgynous 10-piece collection filled with earthy tones and incorporating this plastic into it. I guess it’ll be interesting to see what people say about it.
You’ve gotten inspiration for past collections from the likes of Freud and Socrates. Where did you get your inspiration from for this one?
Erin Holman. You’re going to hear a lot about her soon. We’re sort of each other’s yin and yang. I met her and thought to myself, “How many women do I know that do menswear, especially in Toronto?” It’s rare. She has, again, this belief in androgyny — that gender limits fashion — and I relate to that opinion. Her work is very romantic, and it’s really interesting to see the merging of classic ‘50s with this futuristic plastic.”
Have you done any menswear in the past?
No. There’s this weird idea in society that defines this as “men’s clothing” and this as “women’s clothing.” To me, clothes are just clothes.”
In terms of designers, who do you look up to most?
Jeremy Laing. I admire him. I admire his work ethic, his credibility. I admire how he’s represented Canadian fashion in the world.
Do you hope to achieve something like that? Do you aspire to move to New York?
Let’s just say, I’m going to Paris on Monday for some business. And we’re aiming to do Berlin Fashion Week. Berlin, London….
It’s noted that you have a thing for classical music — who are you into right now?
Chopin. I can say that I’m an emotional person — to some degree. And Chopin’s music is always something that provokes thought in me. But right now, I’m listening to Beethoven.
You’re obviously known for your distinct personal style. Where do you shop — or where don’t you shop?
I shop everywhere. I shop at Walmart. It’s hilarious; I’ll buy tank tops there, and then at Fashion Week people will say, ‘Oh my God, I love that tank top!’ But I’ll shop at Holts too. Growing up, my mother would buy Burberry Prorsum, Escada, Hugo Boss, I do very much appreciate and dress in those brands. I’m very fluid when it comes to fashion—there are no rules. If I really want to buy a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti, I will; if I want to go to REmix on Queen, I will.
Toronto’s known for its food scene. Would you consider yourself a foodie?
I’m a huge foodie! People may be surprised and think that I don’t eat, but I enjoy a good steak. Some of my favourites include C5 and Sassafraz. I’m also a pub guy too — I love good beer at O’Grady’s in the Village.
Adrian Wu, 57 Elm St.