EVERYBODY LOVES ALEXANDER WANG
Only 30 years old, Alexander Wang has already turned his brand into a global powerhouse and landed the creative director role at Balenciaga. Come November, he’ll also be the first American designer to collaborate with H&M, and the youngest ever!
Alexander Wang is a person bursting with infectious enthusiasm. Whether pictured with friends or a celebrity, or literally running down the catwalk to take his bow at shows, he’s always beaming and looks positive.
It’s no wonder – since launching his eponymous New York brand in 2007 at the age of 23, Wang has gone on to build a wildly successful empire around it. In 2012, he was made creative director of the legendary Parisian house Balenciaga. And now, he is set to launch an H&M collaboration with some impressive statistics: he’s the first ever American designer to be working with H&M, the youngest guest designer so far, and also the one to mark the ten-year anniversary of H&M’s designer collaborations. Cue smiles from fashion lovers all around the world.
That Wang is one of the most talked about names in fashion right now is undeniable – he’s really got a knack for nailing the spirit of our times, and creating wearable, sought-after pieces that cause a frenzy among fashion insiders, as well as celebrities and shoppers. Alexander Wang collections are always infused with urban style and an element of the familiar, albeit executed in an unexpected way. The studded Rocco handbag, his first foray into accessories, paired rock ’n’ roll cool with gym nonchalance and became an instant It bag when it was launched; many more have followed suit since. Wang also creates covetable footwear (ankle-strap stilettos with little capes or stompy yet sexy boots spring to mind), plus achingly desirable and humorous everyday objects, a natural addition to his range when introduced in 2012 – Alexander Wang dice set, anyone?
The brand is essentially generation-minded, youthful and directional, but always in a very approachable and welcoming manner. Comfort is key, in a practical sense, but also on an emotional level. Think perfect cashmere beanie, thick ribbed-wool cardigan with a curved hem, or a plush parka with deep pockets: all pieces that will work seamlessly with your existing wardrobe – and make you look instantly stylish and confident.
With such positive, creative energy and undeniable cool factor, Wang attracts like people. Along with Vanessa Traina, he counts the model Erin Wasson and fellow designer Joseph Altuzarra as close friends. His designs are worn by celebrities such as Rihanna, Katy Perry and Zoë Kravitz, and, of course, a legion of catwalk models.
Wang was born and raised in San Francisco to Taiwanese-American parents. He attended boarding school, and was classmates with Vanessa Traina, the daughter of author Danielle Steel and now a sought-after stylist and consultant in her own right. At 18 he departed for New York City and Parsons School of Design. Wang actually left Parsons after his sophomore year to start up his own label, but not before getting internships at American Vogue, Teen Vogue, Marc Jacobs and Derek Lam under his belt. There was even an early stint at Barneys New York, where he worked in the shoe department.
Clearly, Wang is not one to dilly-dally. “I’ve always had a strong work ethic,” he says. “If you want something, you have to go out and do it for yourself.” This includes throwing the most talked-about parties – from the carnival-themed party under the High Line park that featured bumper cars, a carousel and game booths, to a huge bash near Manhattan’s city hall with performances by Busta Rhymes and Die Antwoord.
In typical positive and inclusive manner, Wang also chose to announce his upcoming H&M collaboration with a surprise party – this time at the Coachella music festival. The event, which was attended by celebs including Katy Perry and Robert Pattinson, saw performances by Iggy Azalea, Major Lazer and Jay-Z’s tour DJ Just Blaze. In advance of the launch of the actual collection, which follows in November, we caught up with Alex – everyone refers to him as ‘Alex’ – in New York for an exclusive interview. As you might guess, he bounded into the room, and that infectious smile instantly appeared.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE COLLABORATION?
I’m hoping to achieve a completely new take, something that hasn’t been done in H&M’s ten years of designer collaborations. It’s a bit early to disclose any details, but I will say that I’m excited to unveil the concept!
IS THAT THE KIND OF CHALLENGE YOU RELISH?
With every project, I see it not only as a creative challenge, but also an opportunity to explore another side of what we can offer. Some know our brand, some might not, and I think this collaboration adds another chapter to the story that we, as the brand Alexander Wang, hope to tell.
WHY DO YOU THINK YOUR DESIGNS HAVE RESONATED SO STRONGLY WITH PEOPLE?
It’s about function, but also a connection to something that is familiar, that people see as part of their wardrobe and can be comfortable in. I have this outlook on fashion that is unprecious. Whoever partakes in our brand, there’s always a sense of never conforming to a fashion system of trends, how you have to wear things, or the definitions of ‘luxury’ and ‘street’. There’s an irreverent approach to fashion.
SO HOW DO YOU KEEP THINGS FRESH?
At the end of the day, humans have two arms and two legs and, until the next species evolves [laughs], I’m designing within those kind of restraints. Fabrication and technology is where the newness comes from. But as much as things can be innovative, there’s always a nostalgic feel. Whether it’s glow-in-the-dark or heat-sensitive [which Wang has used in both his catwalk collections and on more accessible accessories], for me it brings back certain memories.
YOU’VE TOUCHED ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COMFORT AND WEARABILITY. DO YOU SEE THIS AS A RESULT OF YOUR CALIFORNIAN UPBRINGING?
Maybe. Yes, I’m based in New York, I was born in California and I’m an Asian-American by fact, but I’m always travelling and looking at how people dress around the world. I think wearability is more something I inherently believe in. It comes as second nature when I do fittings, and it’s what I’m attracted to. I don’t think, “I’m designing in New York, I have to make it wearable”. That’s not my approach. It’s just what feels right.
YOU’RE HEAVILY INVOLVED IN BOTH THE BUSINESS AND CREATIVE SIDE OF FASHION. WHAT INTERESTS YOU ABOUT THAT?
At the end of the day, fashion is a business. It’s commerce, it’s selling clothes. If I were in it just for the creative aspect, I wouldn’t be in fashion, I’d be doing costume design. So you have to create something, but also fit it into a certain structure: show it to buyers, have it work on a sales floor, have people buy it. There are a lot of elements in the equation, and the more you understand the business, the more you’re able to be responsible for it. It doesn’t make your job easier, it actually makes your job harder – but it’s more exciting for me.
YOU BECAME OBSESSED WITH FASHION AT A YOUNG AGE. DO YOU REMEMBER HOW OLD YOU WERE?
I remember some time in the fourth or fifth grade, I started collecting fashion magazines, and ripping out editorials and ad campaigns.
HOW DID YOU FIRST COME ACROSS THE MAGAZINES?
From going to the hair salon with my mom and waiting for her. From there, I subscribed to my own fashion magazines when I started boarding school in fifth grade.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO FASHION?
The level of creativity. To be able to create this world, to see a picture, to understand a character and a lifestyle – that’s what first attracted me. It’s like playing director.
WAS IT ONLY MAGAZINES YOU WERE INTERESTED IN?
There was also the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, which was always something I dreamed of going to. I would skip school to go home and make sure I was recording it on the VHS!
DID YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITE OUTFITS?
In high school, I tried to replicate the clothes in magazines. There was the grunge moment, of course, with Marc [Jacobs] being a big influence. I remember buying plaid fabric to make a pair of trousers. I never took formal sewing lessons, so when I wore them to school, they ripped in the middle of class!
WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN INFLUENCES RIGHT NOW?
Everything! I’m travelling all the time. I’m in Europe half the time. I’m constantly keeping my eyes and ears open. Music is what I love and what influences me. I’m always trying to stay on top of that.
DO YOU EVEN HAVE TIME TO DO THINGS OUTSIDE OF WORK?
I do, I do! My schedule has become a lot fuller, so personal time is a luxury, but it’s also given me clarity and definition as to who my real friends are, what I really want to do, and where I want to focus my energy.
WHEN YOU’RE TRAVELLING, DO YOU TEND TO JUST WANDER AROUND A CITY OR DO SOMETHING ELSE?
I love to wander and figure out a city on my own. I’ve never been one for sightseeing. I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building in all the years I’ve lived in New York City!
YOU’RE KNOWN TO THROW A GREAT PARTY. FOR YOU, WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS IN ORDER TO MAKE THAT TO HAPPEN?
It’s quite simple. A party is driven by the energy of the music and the people there. You could have a good party in this office if you had good music and the right people. Another thing: you have to keep it mysterious. When people are coming to a party, the more you can maintain an element of surprise, the more people feel they’re constantly discovering new things – that’s key.
HAVE YOU STARTED TO PLAN THE LAUNCH PARTY FOR YOUR H&M COLLECTION YET?
Oh, yes, definitely [smiles mysteriously].
H&M x Alexander Wang includes clothes and accessories for women and men. The collection will be in selected stores worldwide and online from 6 November.