Kid No More
It’s hard to believe, but Alexander Wang has been in business for more than a decade. meets the designer and recently minted chairman and CEO of the company that bears his name
if you were to pick a designer to act as poster child for the millennial generation, it would have to be Alexander Wang. College dropout, self-made mogul, party animal... Wang’s backstory reads like a textbook on the unusual career paths of fellow millennials such as Mark Zuckerberg, pioneers who have turned entire industries upside down and disrupted the status quo.
Kids, however, eventually grow up and while companies like Facebook have become juggernauts soon after turning 10, the scrappy and fun attitude that usually peters out after a decade in business is still at the core of Alexander Wang, both the man and the label.
The image of Wang as a babyfaced Asian-american prodigy who made it big and became a household name while still a 20-something club kid is still ingrained in the consciousness of many of his fans and detractors alike, but underneath this facade lies a driven man, whose ability to mix high and low, pop and couture, has exerted as much influence on the industry as the work of designers often praised for their flights of fancy.
Just look at what’s happening right now: Streetwear, sportswear, hiphop, rave culture. Alexander Wang has been mining those references since his early days, creating a look that’s quickly identifiable as uniquely his, an effortlessly put-together aesthetic that has become known as “model off-duty”. We have to thank Wang for the countless pictures of mannequins on the street during fashion week clad in slouchy tank tops, distressed leather jackets, skinny ripped jeans and biker boots.
In 2005, the California-born Wang interrupted his studies at Parsons in New York to launch a small collection of six unisex sweaters that he peddled himself to boutiques all over Manhattan. Instead of going the usual route of a fashion degree followed by a job at an established label, he figured that he was ready to do things his own way. “[ The established route] wasn’t necessarily a path I wanted to go down, because I wanted to take a path that there might be more of a question mark at the end — like, where could this take me, what could this mean?” he says when we met him early last spring in New York’s Tribeca neighbourhood, where his studio is located. “Because if I stay in school and finish, I know that at that point, I’m going to have to go find a job and work for a designer brand. At the time, I was interning a lot while I was in school and working retail. I very much felt stimulated by those experiences, so I thought: ‘Well, what if I just created a small collection and sold it on consignment to a few stores and I could just kind of get a sense, learn the business?’”
Although most 22-year-old aspiring designers may think business is secondary to their craft, the idea of building a commercially successful label was very much on Wang’s mind from day one. While interning at Teen Vogue, he recalls how many high-end brands would refuse to lend clothes to the magazine, feeling that its readers were not their target customers. “I always grew up aspiring and looking at the big luxury brands and loving them, but obviously not being able to afford them — and this was before the time of H&M and Topshop. If you couldn’t afford them, then you were left with not a lot of options, so I wanted to do something that me and my friends could afford, that we were still excited by,” says Wang, who also wants to set the record straight about the help he supposedly received from his family. “There’s this story where everyone thinks that my mum works in production in China because she lives in China and she hooked me up with all these factories, but to be honest, my family comes nowhere near anyone in fashion. I mean, no one in fashion — no aunts, cousins, nothing. So a lot of it was just figuring it out. And I started with knitwear because it’s a yarn that you directly work with — a vertical operation essentially, it’s not like you do tailoring or you have to go and buy the fabric from here, or pattern from here. Knitwear was something I could handle and I started with just six sweaters and this idea that I would do unisex. It was the same core wardrobe knitwear pieces that you would need, like an oversized cardigan, a hoodie, a crewneck...”