September 2009

Alexander Wang Savage Cool

Studs and skins and furs, oh my: The fashion world’s enfant terrible delivers  by Brandon Palas

Alexander Wang has come a long way from the first item he ever constructed: a pair of gingerbread-man pants in fifth grade, with “no center inseam.” And though the 25-year-old designer’s career is still in its infancy, he has achieved more success than most aspiring designers will in a lifetime. Since 2005, when he presented his first collection—during his sophomore year at Parsons the New School for Design—Wang has rapidly become someone to watch.

His creations—whose languidness slips seamlessly from haute style right into a lifestyle brand—have graced the pages of the leading fashion magazines, sold to more than 200 retail stores and boutiques worldwide and amassed a following who call themselves Wangsters. The fashion world can’t wait to witness the evolution of his style.

Alexander Wang Photo by Sebastian Kim

If Wang, whose appearance is both striking and unassuming, has a secret, it might be that he plays the two sides of his personality in an almost mythic way. On the one hand, he’s profoundly inspired by all of the anarchic, ecstatic, primal forces in nature, as anyone who has been granted access to one of his infamous after-parties—or received a golden ticket to one of his shows—knows. His final bow often includes a jig that stops just short of a Betsey Johnson cartwheel. “Admittedly for me, it was either fashion or something to do with dance and music,” he says. And then there’s the part of him that brings order from chaos, that joyously creates structure out of disorder, that takes each part of a garment and wills it into line.

“For each season, it’s always about doing something new,” Wang explains. “To be a successful designer is to be able to change but still get recognized for your touch and finesse. You con-tinue to evolve but project the same message.” His first collection was largely knitwear and included pieces for both men and women—inspired, he says, by “classic, clean sportswear with a relaxed, effortless attitude.” His focus has expanded from dress-for-success—à la Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, the muse for his spring 2008 show—to a celebration of his customers’ high-fashion Zen with clothes that are both hip and comfortable.

Last year, he received an endowment from the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund for emerging designers, an award for which he gave an emotional acceptance speech. This year, he was named the CFDA Swarovski Women’s Wear Designer of the Year.

Wang’s fall 2009 ready-to-wear line is emblematic of his departure from child’s play, as he—and the girl for whom he designs—has grown up. Shown at the Roseland Ballroom on West 52nd Street, the collection captures the vibe of countless nights of intoxicating play. The audience includes the vanguard of the fashion universe, international reporters and young designers hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever it is that makes Wang tick. Celebrity friends and fans alike strain for a look at what’s next.

As the lights go down, the fidgeting and gossiping stop, and the crowd snaps to attention. One by one, striking models with feline physiques stride down the catwalk, channeling Wang’s inspiration: Catwoman. Model Natasha Poly emerges from the smoke-filled entrance to the roar of “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, followed by Outkast’s “B.O.B. (Bombs over Baghdad).” Wang is a little bit hip-hop, a little bit rock ’n’ roll. Poly wears what appears to be a second skin: backless, low-cut, tailored blazer (sans undershirt or bra) with matador-esque metal studs lining the sleeves, skintight capris and bewitching Victorian-inspired lace boots—all in black.

“I see black as the most versatile color,” Wang confesses. “I don’t use a lot of prints or embroideries. Everything has to do with texture and finishes, and with black I have the most range in experimentation.” The grown-up collection plays with structure and more luxurious materials, such as furs and leathers. “I wanted everything to feel untamed, savage...barbaric.” In fact, what Wang does with this collection is transform sultry nocturnal shadows into ethereal design, and his dedicated following is basking in the light of his creations. (Too bright? Don’t worry, he’s about to release a line of sunglasses.)

“Alex possesses a mood girls want,” says Opening Ceremony’s creative director, Humberto Leon. “You know when you buy an Alexander Wang piece, there is a certain emotion you will feel when you are wearing the item. It’s not easy to evoke this with most clothing, but Alex’s pieces give you that.”

As Wang continues to evolve, so does his business. While other design houses are closing up shop, he’s just getting started. “We’ve been in a very lucky position,” he says. “One, we’re not at a standstill, and two, we’re not moving backwards. So those are two good signs.” For spring 2009, there was a new addition to the Wang family: T by Alexander Wang, a line of T-shirts that weightlessly evokes the same sensible tone of his earliest collections. He collaborated with Shiseido on a line of makeup, 
Maquillage (only available in Asia), and he recently opened a “shop-in-shop” at Opening Ceremony in Los Angeles.

“The Alexander Wang boutique will encompass the entire range of products, from runway and collection pieces to leather accessories and shoes, as well as the newly launched T collection, a full offering of jersey T-shirts, tanks and dresses,” says Leon. But Wangsters be warned: “We’ve had items sell out before they even hit the floor.”

Wang is taking the shop-in-shops concept on the road, launching at the Opening Cere-mony in Japan on August 29 and Selfridges in London later this fall. Otherwise, anybody is free to check out his newly introduced Website, alexanderwang.com, where customers are offered special promotions and a com-parable shopping experience from the comfort of home.

What’s more, Wang is gra-ciously giving back to the guys whose jeans and blazers he not so slyly borrowed for his spring 2008 ready-to-wear women’s 
collection by creating a spring 2010 line for men, which hits stores in January. “While the lines share a certain sensibility,” he says, “I want my men’s line to be for the guy that my girl finds attractive, not a direct derivative of the women’s collection.”

The menswear harkens back to his beginnings and is simple: feathery tees, cozy sweaters and refined button-downs. The collection is informal, designed for the guy who isn’t as much concerned with fashion as he is with seeking comfort. “That’s not to say it won’t evolve,” he assures, “but for right now, that’s what I felt was right.”

Barely five years into creating his own collections, Wang is 
already waxing retrospective. And it’s a good thing: Both fashion-forward women and the men who love them want to share in the Wang sensibility.