Alexander Wang Carries New York’s Fashion Torch into the Future

At some point in every major fashion designer’s career, there is a moment when they look back before they continue moving forward. The past is always a good map to reference when charting unknown territory, especially when the future is as uncertain, complicated, and unfamiliar as the one faced by today’s struggling fashion industry. Alexander Wang, who showed his S/S 20 collection over the weekend, confidently stood at that intersection between the past, the present, and what’s ahead, all while loosely addressing issues of race, belonging, and what it means to be an American designer.



Alexander Wang Collection 1 Spring/Summer 2020 show in New York. Photos by NOWFASHION.


The choice of the venue was fitting, significant, and symbolic. Leaving behind vacant lots and industrial offices – part of the designer’s adaptive and pioneering business strategy to navigate (and by times lead) disruptions in the industry, from the brand’s decision to walk away from NYFW’s traditional calendar to its recent logo and digital rebranding – Wang hosted an extravagant show at the iconic New York Rockefeller Center, the first ever held at the venue.

 

Some time ago, word got out that his S/S 20 collection would take place there. As it is often the case when collections are shared in such famous New York landmarks (say, for instance, Christian Siriano’s recent show at the Top of the Rock or VFILESspectacle at the Barclay’s Center), there was a mix of excited anticipation and dubious wonder. After all, the venue doesn’t make the show or the collection, and the overall effect and success depends entirely on how the space is used.



Adut Akech and Pete Davidson at the Alexander Wang Collection 1 Spring/Summer 2020 show in New York. Photos by NOWFASHION.


Wang’s team, using a winning trifecta – a minimal but slick use of the space, a finely-tuned and curated catwalk (which included Pete Davidson’s surprise modeling debut), and pulsating energetic music – transformed the iconic ice-skating ring into an ideal stage for his much-anticipated collection.

 

The show, an important one as Wang stands at the periphery of significant overarching and internal changes, was a mature balance between his driving desire to push boundaries and to redefine fashion, an eye on the future, and his more recent overt acknowledgement of his influences and heritage, an eye on the past. An ode of sorts to tradition and patriotism, the new collection’s showcasing was orchestrated in four movements.

 

The first three, dedicated to the trinity of pioneering designers who defined American fashion throughout the 90s and thereon, respectively paid homage to Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren. The final section was dedicated to showcase Wang’s unique, progressive, and recognizable design, today part of what will arguably be regarded in the future as part of American fashion’s lineage that Wang is honoring.

 

Donna Karan’s signature lines and proportions, particularly interpreted by Wang, were impressively relevant and appealing, a true testament to how groundbreaking and utilitarian of a designer she was, even in her earliest collections. The workwear might have been updated – many of the pieces logoed, structural and oversized to meet current trends – but business suits (now tighter), trousers (now sportier), blazers (now leather), and especially the bold shoulder bodysuits projected the same assurance and strength they did decades ago.



Alexander Wang Collection 1 Spring/Summer 2020 show in New York. Photos by NOWFASHION.


From Calvin Klein’s nineties minimalist-like era, Wang adopted the denim treatments (think light blue and gray washes), and of course the underwear-as-outerwear aesthetic that brought much attention to Klein’s brand at the end of the 20th century. The originality here resided in dresses and bodysuits constructed with branded elastic bands, and Wang’s use of oversize and asymmetry. Arguably the most faithful adoption of codes from the various designers Wang was honoring, a heavily tattooed Davidson stepped out during this section wearing a white tank, a backward baseball cap, a two-tone pair of jeans composed of both denim and leather, and a belt designed to look like CK’s underwear elastic (Marky Mark and Justin Bieber anyone?), resulted in this being a peak moment of the show and in the crowd’s responding enthusiasm.

 

Opening the show’s second section with a look composed of a blue blazer worn over a white sweater with red stripes, and a pair floaty white pants, the most interesting and potentially risky homage was the designer’s take on Ralph Lauren. Rarely has Wang ever adopted that Western-like ‘preppy Americana’ style that has progressively become a recognizable element in recent collections by the likes of Raf Simons or Telfar Clemens. Yet, the noticeably long suede fringes, flannel plaid (applied to bucket hats!), Western shirts, dark denim and leather combos, and corduroy all seamlessly played a cohesive part in this section’s looks. More importantly, the designer’s use of these elements was original and true to his design throughout, hardly ever feeling like a mere appropriation or replication. Pairing slim-fit corduroy blazers with silk slips and leather bike shorts, for instance, justified the nod to Ralph Lauren’s feel while bringing it right back into the Wang vibe. The designer achieved a similar tour de force with the more sporty, collegiate side of things by embroidering the American flag on a classic knit, a garment that is likely to fly off the shelf during the next few months.



Alexander Wang Collection 1 Spring/Summer 2020 show in New York. Photos by NOWFASHION.


By way of the fourth and final section, a tribute to the suffragettes, the audience was welcomed deep into Wang territory. Featuring the designer’s it-girl muse squad (with the likes of Binx Walton, Selena Forrest, Kaia Gerber, Lexi Boling, and Kendall Jenner), the looks – mostly all in white and discreetly emblazoned with the brand’s logo – were a roundup of the designer’s best of. Long and roomy shirts, sporty jerseys, thick hoodies paired with denim jackets, slips and dresses, and relaxed suiting all made an appearance for the show’s closing. Using the first three movements as building blocks, figuratively as a designer and literally as a business, Wang’s final movement looked towards the future, not the past.

 

Among the various details and nods that added meaningful layers to this show, it should be noted that these four movements were intently organized by race, presumably making an obvious metaphorical statement about the role of fashion, brands, and people in bridging the divisions that exist in America’s population. Granted, in this day and age a multiracial casting isn’t all that original (nor should it be), but one must give credit where credit is due; especially in the times we live in – certainly in the United States, where political and social tensions are increasingly palpable since 2016 – and especially if one takes into consideration that the majority of Wang’s peers, at that level of exposure and commercial success, are seldom as explicit, frank, or brave about it.



Alexander Wang at his Collection 1 Spring/Summer 2020 show in New York. Photo by NOWFASHION.

The same can be said of Wang bringing out his parents at the end of the show. It’s not the first time (and it certainly won’t be the last) that a designer is accompanied by their parent, companion, or child for their bow out, but there was something disarmingly genuine about that moment. On one hand, Wang is literally part of an emerging generation that, infused with other cultures and values, is redefining modern America. His parents’ hard work and sacrifices made that possible, and he celebrates it. On the other hand, he is aware of his role as a leader in the U.S. fashion industry and of the responsibility he has to build a sound legacy. His talent and hard work made that possible, and he celebrates it as well. This is fashion, so the entertainment value and the dramatics are unquestionably factored in, but there is something to say about placing it all under a wholesome umbrella of patriotism, family, and a more hopeful tomorrow, especially if you’ve got the chops and talents to back it up.