alexander wang is fashion's youngest over-achiever
Alexander Wang is the kind of guy you want to be friends with. He's smart, funny, and makes cool, stylish clothes that cool, stylish girls want to wear. At 24 years old he's also young, achieving - since his label's launch in 2006 - what other designers can only hope to achieve in their lifetime.
2008 saw the Californian boy continue to reap the industry recognition he deserves, nominated for the 2008 CFDA Swarosvki Womenswear Designer Of The Year Award, earning his place amongst the top ten finalists for the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund and winning the prestigious Ecco Domani Emerging Designer Award. "I was born and raised in San Francisco and LA," Alexander explains over the telephone from his studio in downtown New York, "where there's such a strong beach culture that my clothes have always been about that laidback attitude. It's about being able to throw on your slacks with a pair of heels and run down to the corner deli and still look super sleek and stylish." Believing a T-shirt and jeans can be just as sexy as an evening gown, Wang has cultivated a design signature of slouchy Tees, layered dresses and trousers that perfectly merge his Californian upbringing with his current downtown New York living.
My kind of girl is a little rough around the edges, very natural, very individual. She wears what makes her feel comfortable, it's always easy, and it never looks put together. Yet at the same time it's always just a little bit off. She's never afraid to be a bit of bad girl or a little rebellious.
Spring/summer 09 captured this beachy aesthetic perfectly, with Wang making a marked departure from his trademark muted palette to experiment with colour. "l was in Miami quite a bit last winter," he continues, "and l was really inspired by the city being so tacky and so overtly sexy and in your face." The coastal city's sun drenched shores and art deco hotels inspired a collection of washed out lavenders, corals and pinks, while cult '80s TV show Miami Vice attributed to the boxy '80s sporty silhouette.
Wang's models sported faded blue denim shirts, rich brown tans and slicked back hair. '80s classics such as suit jackets in neon pink and aquamarine were worn with sleeves pushed up to the elbows, loose rolled up trousers, and pastel coloured tees. While skin tight, black bodycon dresses with flashes of turquoise or sheer black piping, teamed with glistening skin and dishevelled hair gave the impression of a hot young thing escaping the nightclub for an illicit rendezvous on the beach.
"I wouldn't say l have specific muses as such," Alexander explains, "but there's definitely an attitude l like in certain individuals, girls like Erin (Wasson, responsible for styling his shows up until last year) or Alice Delall or Jen Brill... My kind of girl is a little rough around the edges, very natural, very individual. She wears what makes her feel comfortable, it's always easy, and it never looks put together. Yet at the same time it's always just a little bit off. She's never afraid to be a bit of bad girl or a little rebellious."
Alexander too likes to party, and his spring/summer 09 after-party came to be the most hyped and talked about party of New York fashion Week, with none other than Foxy Brown taking to the mic. "She sung five or six songs and just brought the house down," he reminisces. "She had the crowd totally motivated, everyone was dancing, sweating, it was crazy." A fan of Foxy since a young boy, Alexander also quotes Tribe Called Quest and Wu Tang Clan amongst his all time faves, adding, "I'm a big fan of old skool hip-hop, I also love rock and pop... I just love dancing, it's a big part of my life."
Born and raised in San Francisco, California, to a Chinese-American family, fashion fascinated Alexander from as young as he can remember. "l grew up in a family of girls," Alexander explains. "My cousins were into dance and ballet so there were always costumes around, and they would always play dress up with me, then make me style them." In fifth grade he went to boarding school, where rather than participate in sports and extra-curricula activities with his classmates, Alexander continued to nurture his love for clothes. "My only outlet to fashion at that time was magazines," he remembers. "l literally had every magazine subscription going. It was the only thing l ever looked forward to. l would finish school go to my mailbox grab my magazine and go back to my dorm room and read my magazine cover to cover." During those formative years magazines such as i-D, American Vogue and The Face became his bibles, holding far more weight in Alexander's young mind then any school book could ever hope to, with Wang duly learning the names of every fashion designer, stylist and photographer that graced their pages. "At that time it was very much the nineties," Alexander continues, "Tom Ford's era, Marc Jacobs... everything was so rich back then, all rhinestones, leopard print and furs, I couldn't get enough of it."
It was around this time Wang purchased his first piece of expensive clothing - a black leather aviator jacket. "Well actually my dad bought it for me," he remembers. "It was from Gap and it cost $250 dollars. It was my first expensive item as a little kid. l wore it to school and I felt so cool, from there my love for designer clothes just escalated."
On graduating from school, Alexander moved to New York to study fashion design at Parsons Design School. "It was only when I came to New York l realised all the opportunities," Alexander explains. "It felt like everything was endless. My eyes were opened to everything." Keen to experience the world he'd only read about on the pages of the glossies, Alexander applied for an internship at Marc Jacobs. "They hired me on the spot. I think it was their Fall 04
collection." Interning at Marc Jacobs only succeeded in securing Wang's devotion to the industry. Like a kid in the candy shop, he approached every task with wide-eyed wonder, eagerly lapping up the experience he had been given. "I was literally watching everything," Wang remembers. "Watching Marc design, watching his designs then go to the sample room, watching the labour of love that went into the littlest minute details, from picking out a button, to dying trim, to putting things together. It was really quite incredible." From here he undertook a placement at Teen Vogue, swiftly followed by American Vogue. While Wang claims the editorial experience was "amazing", it only served in reaffirming his passion for design. So after a short stint at Derek Lam, he returned home to San Francisco and stoically announced to his parents he would quit university and launch himself as an independent fashion designer. "My parents were totally supportive," Alexander exclaims. "I was totally shocked. To think that traditionally Asian parents want their children to be a lawyer or a doctor or whatever, it was amazing." Alexander designed three unisex cashmere sweaters - "l realised there was this gap in the market for something that catered to me and my friends and our aesthetic, but wasn't girly or frilly" - and recruiting the help of his brother and sister in law, the family packed their bags and took off down the coast to LA to promote Alexander's designs. A year and a half later Wang moved back to New York with his brother and sister in law in tow, and together they launched the first full Alexander Wang collection for spring/summer 07.
The collection was a success and by his second offering, Wang had packed a full house of devotees, with fashion magazines and websites cementing his one to watch status. "It's about making clothes that girls want to wear," Wang explains, "clothes that are easily adaptable into their wardrobes but still have something very fresh, new and modern." Family too has been integral to Wang's ever- blossoming success. "It's been a very family operated business since day one," he confirms, adding that any outside investors or advisors have always had to get full family approval before being recruited. The company that started out with a team of five (Alexander, his brother and sister in law included) has over two years expanded to 31 people. The ease at which it has grown to the internationally renowned brand it is today is remarkable. "I don't look at it like it's a lot to have achieved for someone so young," Wang muses. "I always see it as a work in progress. What we've done can always get better and we're only at the beginning. At the end of the day we are trying to meet sales and survive, but we'd never sacrifice our integrity for what we do."
So how does he keep his feet on the ground, having achieved in the space of three years what many designers can only hope to achieve in their lifetime? "Honestly, all my friends are people l have known from school. My life is really just the same," he insists. "After work we go and get a bowl of noodles in Chinatown, or go and watch a movie, or take a road trip to Miami for spring break... All the things l used to do when l was back in school. l may have to wear coats and sweaters now I'm in New York but deep down I'm still that same boy that just wants to go and get a smoothie at the beach."
Text Holly Shackleton
Photography Daniel Jackson
Styling Alastair McKimm
[The Beautiful Issue, No. 295, January 09]