Alexander Wang Reinvents the American Dream
Alexander Wang is in full flux – as a brand and, by extension, as a fashion designer. The ongoing changes are important, overarching and strategically varied, ranging from how the business is to be managed amidst an unpredictable landscape to how Wang will adapt – commercially and creatively – to the disruption he’s leading.
Backstage at the Alexander Wang Collection 2 Fall/Winter 2019 runway show in New York. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
On one hand, there is the brand’s decision to walk away from NYFW’s traditional calendar, which the designer punctuated when going rogue this past June for his Spring 2019 collection, presenting it months ahead of the usual schedule. Worth noting as well that, from those American designers who have not flocked abroad to showcase their collections, he is also among a handful of New York designers showing Fall during the new December fashion week. In a way, these pioneering business maneuvers, which the brand’s chief marketing officer Stephanie Horton described as a “response to the way the modern consumer shops and [their] customer’s needs in particular,” could be considered part of the instability Wang is presently tackling head on, or the catalyst of said flux.
On the other hand, Wang’s determining task is to create collections which express his evolving vision while taking into consideration a new business model that appeals to an emerging generation of consumers. In other terms, after over a decade of admirable success, Wang has willingly cornered himself into an experimental phase, both as a businessman and as a designer. The first December Collection 2 show, with its remixing-like approach, nod to different eras, and ode to the American hustle, definitely felt like a step in the right direction – even if by times, like any experimentation, the outcome wasn’t evenly successful.
Teyana Taylor, Sophia and 21 Savage at the Alexander Wang Collection 2 Fall/Winter 2019 runway show in New York. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
Organized at the former Williamsburg Savings Bank in Brooklyn, the Collection 2’s event took place in two acts. During Act 1, a celebratory pre-party of sorts, guests were treated to champagne and caviar while they chit-chatted under a giant Christmas tree and listened to holiday carols sung by a church choir (which, it must be said, as of Pyer Moss’ recent remarkable show, seems somewhat culturally redundant). At some point, the designer, like a speaker to the masses, stepped onto a balcony to thank everyone for making it to Brooklyn for the show. During Act 2, guests were ushered down to a dark basement lit by pulsating red lights, and seated. To a mashup soundtrack composed of heavy electronica instrumentals (including Kanye’s BLKKK SKKKN HEAD) and several rap anthems (including Rick Ross’ thematically fitting Hustlin’), and extracts of The Lady is a Tramp mixed in, the show began. The front row was filled with the usual suspects including Teyana Taylor, but surprisingly the guest that stole the night was Sophia – a human-like robot who Wang ‘met’ right before taking the stage at Lisbon’s Web Summit, capable of interacting with humans, and who ended up interviewing some of the models backstage.
For Collection 2, which the designer described as a “celebration of the American hustle (…) taking stereotypes of class and wealth and trying to remix them,” Wang offered a true example of high and low fashion, spanning from evening looks to more informal ones such as floral slip dresses styled over boxers.
With the recurrent and visually heavy presence of the ‘W’ logo throughout (on buckles, chokers, waist bands, and, most interestingly, imprinted on the hair of models), the designer revisited and reinterpreted both downtown and uptown sartorial classics. This included camel coats, tweed jackets, business suits, sharp leather blazers, deconstructed tuxedos, and long knit dresses. Several standouts included a long houndstooth topcoat with a smiley face painted on the side by graffiti artist Katsu, and a tweed suit accompanied with a black leather butcher’s apron skirt, and chain bracelets worn over rubber gloves.
Backstage at the Alexander Wang Collection 2 Fall/Winter 2019 runway show in New York. Photos: Courtesy of PR.
Despite the heavy music, the initial eerie vibe set by the moody lightning, and the more slick and dressy feel of the opening looks, the designer also provided some more playful moments. By way of some noticeable preppy looks – think rugby shirts and polos adorned with colorful prints and studded crests, pinstriped boxer shorts and even tennis sweaters – Wang might have been inspired by his boarding school days (maybe a chronological follow up to the June show on his status as an immigrant, academic success generally being regarded as desirable and essential by parents), or simply referencing an upper social class that many aspired to be a part of when hustling the American dream in the 80s or the 90s. These two eras also received the occasional wink by way of standalone pieces like small plastics sunnies, leather and leopard-spot garment bags, the eighties inspired ‘PA!N’ graphics printed on tees and seersucker polos, slim gold necklaces, and possibly even the towel hair wraps, which could be interpreted as an exaggerated statement on that iconic go-getter woman (stepping out of the shower at the gym or in her SoHo apartment).
Alexander Wang Collection 2 Fall/Winter 2019 runway show in New York. Photos: Courtesy of PR.
They say that “with great power comes great responsibility,” but this is also true of those who successfully challenge any status quo, especially when it represents a billion dollar industry. Straying away from business standards and questioning accepted traditions is tricky, but living up to the expectation of creating part of what comes next is arguably even more difficult. As is often the case, only time will tell how successful Wang’s new ventures will become or whether stepping out of NYFW’s established platform will pay off, but given the collection at hand – and greats like Chanel or Versace siding on Wang’s calendar switch up – what might have been regarded as an overly progressive and disruptive stance just a few years ago is looking promising today.