Nordstrom hopes to strike gold with Jason Wu collection
Seattle retailer ordered little-known fashion designer's collection before Michelle Obama picked his one-shoulder gown to wear to the inaugural balls.
Seattle Times business reporter
Few people were happier than Jennifer Wheeler to learn that first lady Michelle Obama had chosen a white chiffon one-shoulder gown by 26-year-old New York designer Jason Wu for last week's inaugural balls.
Wheeler, a Nordstrom VP who oversees women's designer apparel, took a chance on Wu several months earlier when she struck a deal to carry his spring 2009 collection at select stores.
The Taiwanese-born Wu was then a virtual unknown, but his collection arrives Wednesday at the flagship Nordstrom store in downtown Seattle with the buzz that only a celebrity can generate.
The collection won't include Obama's inaugural gown: It's a one-of-a-kind and headed for the Smithsonian.
But Wu also made a sleeveless silk dress Obama wore for a TV interview with Barbara Walters last fall, and it'll be available at the downtown Nordstrom for $3,510.
The rest of the collection ranges in price from $3,000 to $6,000 for evening gowns and $1,000 to $4,000 for day dresses.
"They're just pretty," Wheeler said. "You look at them and think, 'OK, I would feel beautiful wearing his clothes.' "
If the first lady turns out to be the style icon many perceive her to be, Nordstrom is positioned to take advantage.
The downtown store also carries the Cuban-American designer Isabel Toledo, who made the yellow dress-and-coat ensemble Obama wore to the swearing-in ceremony.
For those who can afford it, Toledo offers a silk sailor dress for $2,200 or a black lace column gown for $2,640.
Certainly, Obama's nods to Wu and Toledo are no guarantee Nordstrom shoppers will drop large sums of money for their clothes, especially in a bad economy, but Wheeler said she's thrilled by the publicity.
For now, at least, it appears a lucky break for Seattle-based Nordstrom. It, like most retailers, could use a boost after a tough holiday sales season.
"It was exciting for our industry ... the fact that she seems to take an interest in fashion and wears American designers," Wheeler said of Obama. "Exposure is always great for any designer."
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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