Q&A with Claudia Wu
Claudia Wu is the creative director and co-founder of Cherry Bombe Magazine. “Cherry Bombe is a beautifully designed biannual publication that celebrates women and food—those who grow it, make it, serve it, style it, enjoy it, and everything in between. It is about sustenance and style and things that nourish the mind, the eye, and of course, the stomach.”
After stints at some of the leading magazines Claudia founded her own boutique design firm, magazine, and then eventually went on to co-found Cherry Bombe, a highly coveted fashion-heavy food glossy. To me each issue feels so lovingly edited and designed. It’s been elevated to coffee table book status. I was honored to visit Claudia in her home along with our photographer Christine Han (who took these beautiful photos), to learn about Claudia’s inspirations and the books in her life.
Samantha Hahn: What was your favorite book as a kid? Teen? Do you have one now as an adult?
Claudia Wu: I was put in an advanced reading group of which I was the only member in the sixth grade, so I read a lot of books in school. Mostly the classics. On my own time, my mother would drop me off at the library for hours twice a week (or so). I brought home a lot of books over the years. I remember reading series, like Black Beauty (I was really into horses as a kid), Little House on the Prairie, I loved Steven King and my brother was really into sci-fi, so I read Piers Anthony, Robert A. Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, those choose your own adventure books, among others. I also loved Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, George Orwell’s 1984, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, all those dystopic novels that seem so relevant again these days. I never got into YA novels. I still don’t know what people are talking about when they tell me I remind them of the Claudia in The Babysitter’s Club, although I might have read a few Sweet Valley Highs because my best friend loved them. Later on, Chuck Palahnuik, Matt Ridley, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, and in particular The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. After I got to art school, I started collecting design books and magazines. It became more about the way things looked and books as objects.
SH: You are the co-founder and creative director of Cherry Bombe, a twice yearly journal with a decidedly fashion aesthetic. What is the connection between food and fashion? What books have inspired you over the years in both categories?
CW: I think food, like fashion, music, art, and other things, is a part of your identity, part of a lifestyle you choose to follow. So it’s more about your personal taste, what you choose to believe in, and how that manifests itself in your everyday choices for better or for worse. Fashion books: I can’t think of one, but there are some photographers who’s work I love that have books. I am not a big collector of books, so I don’t have that many in my apartment. Food: I went through a period where I read these single subject food / history books, like Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World and Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson. There were a few others. But The Third Plate by Dan Barber, The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. I was very into biology and science in high school. Still am, to a lesser degree, but only because I’m busy with other things.
SH: I read that you once considered penning a cookbook. If you had done it what would the title have been and what kinds of recipes would we find in there?
CW: It would be pretty healthy fare: pescatarian, vegetables, baked goods using alternative flours and Asian flavors. I’m currently obsessed with spelt and black sesame. I have no idea what I’d call this book.
SH: Can you tell us your 5 favorite cookbooks?
CW: Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, Bar Tartine Techniques & Recipes by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Barnes, Everything I Want to Eat by Jessica Koslow, The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook (grew up with it), and the upcoming Cherry Bombe Cookbook.
SH: Both the book industry and the magazine industry have changed so much. Why do you feel it’s important that Cherry Bombe be a printed magazine? Do you think books and magazines are best as objects? If so, why?
CW: Content can live in any form, but I think it’s best when it also looks good and is packaged well. We are moving through a period in time where everything is disposable. We buy so much and just throw things away. Design is very important, I think, to keep this from happening and to entice us to buy things made with care and thought behind it.
SH: You made a career jump and now run your own thing. Did you read anything that helped you make that transition or run a business?
CW: I’ve always been running my own thing, actually. After I got out of college, I started freelancing and never looked back. My parents ran their own business, and after I had a “learning experience” at the first place I worked at out of college that started out as a freelance gig, I vowed to never let someone have that much control over my life again. I worked at ton of ad agencies, magazines, in house agencies, beauty companies, I started a magazine in 2004 called Me Magazine, and then in 2007 started a creative agency with a friend for five-and-a-half years. Then I started working on Cherry Bombe in the summer of 2012. I cherish the independence, but I know it’s not for everyone. You go through ups and downs and the instability can be nerve-wracking, but it would take a lot for me to take a full time job.
SH: You are obviously passionate about aesthetics. Can you give us a list of your five favorite art, design, and photography books?
CW: These are hard questions. I don’t know if I have favorites, and again I don’t own a lot of books, but on my shelves and not still wrapped in plastic is: Irving Penn’s Still Life, Tibor Kalman’s Tibor, Dennis Hopper’s 1712 North Crescent Heights, Hiro: Photographs, and Tim Walker Pictures.
SH: What other genres are you into reading?
CW: Just good books. I don’t have time to waste on bad ones.
SH: What was your favorite issue of Cherry Bombe and why?
CW: The first issue, when everything was new and unformed and fresh.
SH: Share your favorite quote from a book.
CW: Was this from a book? “Be yourself; everybody else is already taken.”
SH: Favorite literary character. Why?
CW: Oscar Wilde, who said the above quote. A real person, but also a character.
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