A Fashion Show Is a Cross-cultural Gala Event
More than just models walking down a runway, the cross-disciplinary fashion shows of Taiwanese creative director Timm Wu are unique artistic performances.
A Fashion Show Is a Cross-cultural Gala EventBy Elaine Huang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 420 )
Mentioning the Chinese name Wu Chung-hsin is unlikely to trigger any reactions. But say his English alias "Timm Wu," and you're bound to ring bells. No one who wants to hold a fashion show in the Chinese-speaking world can do without this heavy hitter.
In early January, the winter chill was swept away on an African-themed fantasy stage inside the Shanghai Sculpture Space, a renovated steel factory-turned-museum in Shanghai's posh Xintiandi area. With its Africa-inspired show "Fashion Hunters," Stella International, originally a contract shoe manufacturer for top-end fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Prada, shone the limelight on its own shoe brand Stella Luna.
The models posed on the undulating surface of the runway in pointed leopard-print high-heels, producing a fresh, fashionable sense of splendor comparable to any big international brand, and stirring a sigh of delight from the spellbound audience.
It should come as no surprise that the flamboyant show for Stella Luna's spring/summer collection was directed by Wu. Wu's team brings together creative talent who are among the best in their respective trades, like Oscar-winning production designer Yip Kam-tim and the top hair stylists and makeup directors from high-end fashion brands Gucci and Dior. More than 100 people work on Wu's team.
The 45-year-old Wu, always dressed casually in a short-sleeved white T-shirt and washed out jeans, does not look his age, yet he is a 15-year veteran of the fashion-show business, planning more than 50 runway shows per year.
In Hong Kong, Taiwan and China alike, Wu is indispensable when it comes to launching new collections or products. Be it runway shows for designer clothing, jewelry, watches, luxury shoes and other accessories, or glitzy events to release the latest electronic gadgets, Wu is the mastermind behind them all.
"My greatest quality is to be able to set aside personal baggage and collaborate with people from different fields," the busy creative director muses, sitting down for a rare moment of reflection in his workshop in an old neighborhood off Taipei's Minsheng East Road.
Cross-cultural Background Key to Success
In college Wu studied industrial engineering with a focus on management, a field dealing little with artistic creativity and much with technical matters like machine molds and manufacturing processes. Fortunately, Wu got some artistic input at home, since his father was a music lover and his mother a fashion designer.
In elementary school, Wu was the school choir's sole male accompanist and during his compulsory military service he served in the army's entertainment battalion. He once even won the first prize as male soloist in a popular TV singing contest which also featured Stella Chang and Fan Yi-wen, both who went on to become pop stars. So it was not completely unexpected that Wu ended up in the world of fashion.
Wu draws his inspiration from his own nomadic experiences in different cultures.
After college Wu went to Australia to study multimedia design and opera. These studies honed his skills in combining music, sound and light in a multimedia environment.
In the workplace he started out as fashion model manager and soon made a name for himself for his meticulous attention to detail and his sharp memory.
By mere happenstance Wu got to know his role model as a fashion show director, Alan Bailey, a British choreographer and cofounder of Hong Kong-based event management company Gregg & Bailey, when Bailey came to Taiwan to direct a fashion show for casual clothing chain Giordano in 1993.
Bailey admired Wu for his detailed backstage planning and management. Back then many of the models were not able to keep the beat, which was a problem since Bailey's shows featured music with a heavy rhythm. Wu helped the models count the beat and sent them onto the runway just at the right moment. Hong Kong supermodel Qi Qi was so grateful for Wu's helping hand that she called him "Superman."
Wanda Yen, a former model who now works on Wu's team, has witnessed his fantastic memory first-hand. "He can remember the exact line-up of almost 100 models, as well as their outfits and accessories," Yen says with undisguised admiration.
After the event Bailey asked Wu to serve as director for a promotional video. He gave Wu dozens of hours of video footage of the fashion shows that he had staged over the past decade or so. He asked him to watch all the material and condense it into a two-minute video clip.
"A week later he asked me to work for him," Wu recalls. Encouraged, Wu followed Bailey to Hong Kong, working with him to stage fashion shows for international brands in seven countries in one year.
When Britain handed Hong Kong over to Chinese rule in 1997, Wu returned to Taiwan and joined CatWalk Model Agency. Back then, CatWalk founder Ivan Hong was in the process of setting up a studio for freelance models.
Wu, who was used to a sophisticated division of labor in the Hong Kong modeling scene, had to adjust to Taiwan's rather underdeveloped fashion show environment. With the industry in its infancy, Wu had to play every role, from exalted leader to lowly janitor. "That's probably what's typical for Taiwan, you need to be able to do everything, which is also very good training," Wu concedes.
Wu decided to leave CatWalk and set up his own studio after he saw a Louis Vuitton fashion show at the Paris railway station. It was his first time sitting in the audience at a big international fashion show, and he was truly impressed by the successful combination of diverse influences and the innovative power of this old luxury brand.
"As a director, you need to understand the spirit of a brand from the very beginning," Wu says seriously.
Fashion is a cruel and unforgiving business. Once a show is under way, there is no second chance. Therefore, a fashion show director needs to successfully marry all factors to convey a message that is precise, direct and clear.
Wu himself comes up with creative concepts, and then finds collaborators from other disciplines, giving his fashion shows greater depth and a greater diversity of elements.
"A show is definitely more than just models strutting down the runway. It's a grand event, a collective effort to create a certain atmosphere," says Wu in explaining his philosophy.
Wu's events differ from the average Taiwanese fashion show, which simply features a series of models appearing one after the other. Wu cooperates with the big names from various fields of entertainment and creative art to spotlight a brand. Wu has worked with late dancer Lo Man-fei, theater director Michael Li, cellist Fan Zong-pei and art director Yip Kam-tim to get the right mix of sparkle, glamour and sophistication for his trademark fashion shows.
An Open Mind Knows Endless Possibilities
As Wu puts it, he works in an industry that revolves around "3 P's" – people, performance, and projects. Everything has a human dimension.
Since founding his own company, Wu has been able to show off his creative magic on an even broader scale.
Taiwanese designer label Shiatzy Chen has asked him to stage the launch of its new collection in Macao. L'Oreal China has asked Wu to take nine hairstylists to Paris for a hairstyle show. And when JUT Housing Development produced a special feature about Jun Aoki, the architect who designed the world-famous Louis Vuitton flagship store in Tokyo's Roppongi district, they also asked Wu to do the job.
Wu impresses with his open-mindedness and the seemingly endless possibilities that his creativity presents. Peers and partners alike have grown curious about Wu the "hidden little giant" who, despite his rather small stature, throws gigantic fashion shows. Yet Wu is very modest, saying, "I have always been a good learner and won't set myself any limits."
That's why he cannot stand it if clients expect him to replicate what has already been done before. "What I hate most is if a customer says right at the beginning, I like Dior, I want the Dior feel. My job is to help the customer figure out which Dior element he likes and then help him create a show that is his own," Wu says confidently.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz
Name: Timm Wu
Current position: Director of Jimeto Creation, Ltd.
Education: Industrial engineering at Shu Teh Junior College of Technology in Taichung, arts studies at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia
Experience: Fashion show producer at Hong Kong-based event management company Gregg & Bailey HK Ltd., fashion show producer at CatWalk Model Agency in Taipei
Chinese Version: 兩個時尚女「王」攻佔巴黎