alexander wang set the record straight about why he left balenciaga
At last night’s talk at the Met Museum.
"I feel like Beyoncé coming out on her Formation Tour," said Alexander Wang into what he also referred to as his "Janet Jackson mic." Dressed in all black (of course), he was speaking to journalist Alina Cho — the host of the Met Museum's fashion conversation series, The Atelier with Alina Cho — and a packed auditorium that was soon filled with laughter. At 32, Wang was the youngest person to join Cho on the stage by about two decades.
In a thorough, chatty survey of his career and brand — which he launched at just 19, after dropping out of Parsons — Wang and Cho discussed everything from the secrets to his rapid success ("Who did you think you were at age 19?" she joked) to his collaborations with H&M and now Apple Music. They also discussed, in detail, his nearly three years as the creative director of Balenciaga.
What really stood out, though, were the more personal moments. Cho asked Wang about his family, and how it is to work closely with his sister (his CEO) and brother (his CPO). "It's not easy," replied the designer, while reinforcing the importance of his family's support and their shared vision. He also addressed the common but misguided assumption that he got a leg up in the industry thanks to family connections. "Everywhere I go people are like, 'Are you Vera Wang's son?'" he laughed.
In a lightning round — "Drake or Kanye?" (that would be like choosing between his parents, he said, for the record) — Cho asked Wang if he'd choose love or money. When he replied "love," she asked him about a subject he rarely discusses: his love life and personal life. "I don't have a personal life," he said with a laugh, but nonetheless sincerely. "My personal life is my friends and family." And, he implied, his work is also his personal life. If Wang has a reputation for being easy-going and fun-loving, last night's conversation also highlighted how ferociously driven and hardworking he is.
Here's what else we learned.
1. His motto for life and work is "not having regrets."
As a teenage Parsons student, working multiple retail jobs on the side, Wang realized that instead of helping to build other people's brands, he could just start his own. "What's the biggest thing I could lose?" he asked himself, concluding that the answer was "time." So he put out his first collection, in 2005, before he was even 20 years old. He took a similar approach when Balenciaga approached him about coming on board. "I never turn down an opportunity," he said, and, "I live life without regrets."
2. He didn't read his Balenciaga reviews.
Yes, Wang heard the skepticism that surrounded his appointment at Balenciaga, and yes, it got to him. "I'm human," he said. "But If I believe in what I'm doing, that's enough." He asked his team not to show him the reviews of his collections when they came out. And when he eventually decided to part with the house, he reaffirmed that it was purely because he wanted to devote himself to his own brand. "It's home," he said firmly.
3. He drove to the Met Ball in a party bus with Amy Schumer.
Alexander Wang is still scared to attend the Met Ball. "There are just a lot of people telling you to get out of the way!" he joked about the red carpet. So this year, he took the person he decided would be the most fun. And suddenly he and Amy Schumer were driving up Madison Avenue in a party bus, hanging out with Madonna, and consuming entire trays of donuts. Wang designed a custom poppy-red dress for Amy, in which, he said, "she was feeling herself."
4. His fitness regime is insane.
Here's how Wang says he maintains his slim figure: He eats only one thing — Chinese food — and has a preference for carbs. He barely works out ("every two months for a few days"). And he goes out A LOT ("my friends are begging me to sleep," he joked). He also admitted that he has a "very special gift": he never gets hangovers.
5. He might be opening an after-hours restaurant.
While late-night food clearly isn't something the designer needs to survive the morning after, he did say that what New York really needs is "a good after-hours place where you can go eat after the club." He also explained that one of his all-time heroes is Ralph Lauren — who, Cho pointed out, recently opened the Polo Bar in New York as the ultimate embodiment of his lifestyle brand. Could a (likely all-black, marble) late-night Alexander Wang restaurant be in the future for NYC?
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Daniel Jackson
Styling Alastair McKimm