How Jason Wu Is Preparing for a New York Fashion Week Like No Other Amid Coronavirus

Designer Jason Wu and photographer Mike Coppola share how New York Fashion Week has changed in a post-COVID world.

New York Fashion Week is going to hit a little differently this season.

While the biannual event is still set to get underway in the Big Apple beginning on Sunday, Sept. 13, it'll be a week like none other thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With strict safety measures put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ensure proper social distancing, the designers and brands that will show during the truncated week are being forced to get creative to keep the spirit of NYFW alive amid all the changes.

To that end, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who co-produce the event alongside IGM, have been hard at work developing a new and immersive way for designers to get their collections seen. "To address the concerns of the fashion industry, we created the innovative RUNWAY360 digital platform which allows brands the flexibility to show their collections in a variety of formats and at a time that works for them," their website reads, "and engages domestic and international press, consumers, and retailers, most of which are not currently able to travel to New York."

How different will it be this year? For starters, events held outdoors will have a cap of 50 people, while indoor events must be held at either 50 percent capacity or with no spectators at all. So those shots of A-listers cozying up to Anna Wintour in the front row, hoping to get her to crack a smile? A thing of the past—though, hopefully, only temporarily.

While several designers whose collections are typically featured during NYFW—including Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch and more—opted to sit this season out, that was never an option for Jason Wu, whose show kicks off the week. 

"I think it was just something that I was really inspired to do," the designer told E! News exclusively. "I do feel like its important that New York Fashion Week has a strong representation on the world stage, and I felt like there was something that I could do that would both be safe and also help New York be well represented in the scheme of the whole Fashion Week…It just felt like something I was inspired to do. It was more a gut reaction, more just something I felt like was important."

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However important it may have felt, actually designing the collection and mounting the show has not been without its many hurdles. First came learning how to work creatively while remote. "A lot of Zoom," Wu explained, "a lot of packages sent back and forth." Though that was nothing compared to the scaling down of the typical NYFW production that was needed.

"I think there's only going to be 36 audience members, so that's a big difference from 500. That's usually the minimum, so that's a big, big, big difference," he said. "We have to follow the governor's guidelines, everyone getting checked five days minimum before the show. We're keeping the backstage very…lean. And giving everyone personal space, making sure everyone's wearing masks. The days of having hundreds of people backstage is just not what's going to be happening this season. We need to give everybody ample room and make sure everybody is safe."

Everything from casting the show to glam on the day of has had to be reimagined with social distancing in mind. "Last year, when we do go-sees, we'd have 200 girls in and out in the speed of an hour. This year, we're doing go-sees on Zoom and only getting girls that are confirmed to come in," Wu explained

For hair and makeup, he added that "it's like everyone has their own makeup artist and they have to do their hair separately in a different room altogether. They can't all be in the same room, they have to do stations."

As for how one goes about scaling down the typical audience of 500 to a tight 36, Wu said he's still working out those particular details. "I don't know exactly," he admitted. "But some of our key retail partners will definitely be there, key editors will be there and some of my very close friends that are just there to support me. And I think that's it."

That said, Wu added that he was surprised to discover it actually felt easier planning a show for a 36-person crowd and not the other way around. "It's more difficult to obviously have less seats, but I think it's really just a very core, close group of friends and supporters in the industry that will be there, and I think that will be really great," he said. "And for the others, a lot of people who actually just can't physically be in this country right now are going to be watching live. And I think that's the perfect mixture of digital vs. in-person fashion show that we're looking for here, where there's a sense of an event that's going on but it's very much also a digital show."

While everyone in attendance at Wu's show will have to keep a mask on for the duration, the designer said his collection will not be incorporating the often mandatory accessory. "I think it's a little bit of escapism. I think everybody has been kind of cooped up inside and I think the show has a decidedly light-hearted tone," he teased. "That's what I like. I think you should feel fun."

With a theme of "Paradise in the City," the show is intended to offer the designer, who said he hasn't left New York since March, a bit of therapy, too. "I would hope the show gives people the feeling of optimism and great energy," he added. "And that, in the end, is what I think fashion should be. It should be something that brings people joy, and I think that's very important."

As for the look of the collection, Wu added, "I think right now what you'll see from me on Sunday is glamorous but off-the-red-carpet kind of clothes. A lot less dressy than what you're seeing from me usually. It's just kind of like living in the moment right now, and how do you create something that's desirable and also something that fits in with the time?"

But don't expect a sharp left turn into athleisure or anything too drastic. "I think there's definitely a more casual vibe with the next collection that I'm showing at the end of the week but it's still very much me," he promised.

While Wu continues to whittle down his guest list and prep his show, he's far from the only person adapting to the times. The photographers snapping the pictures of his work as it comes down the runway are also gearing up for their brave new world. E! News spoke with Mike Coppola, chief photographer at Getty assigned to Wu's show, who shared how this season will be different for him.

"In previous years, we'd be gearing up for three to four shows. I would take a lot of memory cards," he said. "The biggest difference would be, in each one of those shows is the pit. The photographer pit is one of the most densely populated places on the earth. Even thought we're house photographers, we still have to claim a spot there about an hour and a half to two hours before the show. This year, I'm only shooting the one show for all of fashion week. I'm only preparing for that one big show. And that's the biggest difference—quantity. "

The absence of the typical crowd of attendees is another big difference—one that Coppola says has its pluses and minuses. "One way it will make it easier is, if I need to get someone physical, I won't have to kind of fight my way through a crowd," he said. "The elevators won't be as packed if I need to get a memory card for my camera.

"The thing that I miss about people is that you can get very creative with the audience," he continued. "They really are a part of the show. So when they're sitting there with their phones up, it makes for an interesting connection between the audience and the runway models and fashion in general. So I will miss them as part of the actual event, but it won't make it easier as far as the aesthetic. It always looks nicer when a place is more crowded."

A lot has had to happen to make sure NYFW can even happen at all—a lot of compromise, change, and creativity. And though it's been difficult, both Coppola and Wu admit that it's not been without its silver linings. As the photographer said, "There's a lot of positives. One of them is an honest appreciation for the events. You get people that are sour in the industry. 'Oh I have to go another event.' 'Oh no, I got 10 shoots today.' Now people would kill for the lowest level, go for anything, any shows. Now, they really appreciate those shows, the beauty and the creative of the designers and the whole spectacle of fashion week in general."

For Wu, he sees a moment for all of us to slow down and begin to really consider our consumption. 

"I know it's ironic for me to say that as somebody who is selling clothes, right? But I do think we've gone into the culture of overconsumption," he said. "And I do think this will hopefully change the course and that people will buy less, but better…I've always created clothes that aren't trendy, that can stand the test of time…and now I think that becomes more important than ever."

He continued, "The environmental aspect of what overconsumption means is something we're seeing all over the world for years, and I think this is a real moment for us to reevaluate how to slow down a little bit ,as the world was spinning at such a high pace. I, myself, felt like I wanted to live in a slower pace too. I didn't want to feel like I was kind of in a race against time, all the time, which is actually what everything was feeling like at some point. You know? And that's not just in fashion, but fashion is a very good example of what's fallen into that cycle. You know, too many seasons, too many clothes, too much consumption."

As social distancing has forced him to work alone more than he has in quite some time, he's noticed a feeling that he hopes he can hold onto whenever it is the world begins to return to something resembling normal. 

"It kind of feels like a start-up for me just because it's like, I was doing inventory on shoes the other day when they all arrived. It's a lot of that. It's a lot more Zen, I can tell you that much," Wu said. "I know it doesn't fit, but I like it and I would like it to stay. I don't want that to change. I like Zen. I think that's good. We can all use a little Zen after this crazy year."

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