From the very get go it seems Alexander Wang has managed to position his brand in an ideal middle ground – somewhere between successfully commercial and culturally defiant. In doing so, Wang has done more than just keep his audience engaged and interested; he has also been keeping fashion editors, executives, and buyers busy, challenging certain unquestioned rules and accepted structures that have loosely defined some core pillars of the fashion industry. From using abandoned warehouses in semi-industrial parts of Harlem and pioneering the move to Brooklyn for his catwalks, to moving away from the traditional – and up until not so long ago, revered – Fashion Week schedule, he has been leading a fair amount of trend-setting changes in the industry and in the craft. Nothing wrong with that, especially when considering the industry in question has been – according to many, now more than ever – somewhat failing to adapt quickly enough to increasingly unpredictable changes driven in big part by a new generation of consumers and rapid advancements in technology.
Alexander Wang at the Web Summit and Sportsfile 2018 conference in Lisbon. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
Taking all of this into consideration, it makes sense then that the organizers of Web Summit, the world’s biggest annual technology conference held in Lisbon, would invite the American fashion designer. Wang spoke not just once but twice during the three-day event. The first sit down was with ORDRE chief executive Simon Lock, and the second, which took place on the main stage to an audience numbering in the thousands, was with international journalist and BBC broadcaster Isabel Hilton. Presented as the perfect example of fashion wunderkind who dropped out of college, started his business, and has been disrupting the fashion industry since, Wang discussed a range of topics. Among other subjects, he spoke of the importance of creativity and storytelling, the effect the digital world has had on his business model, how social media and new technologies have impacted his brand values, and the important changes that are at hand for the brand. Here are some of the things he had to say…
On technology inspiring and facilitating change:
“Beyond the story telling, I want to make sure we pay attention to how we look at categories, at distribution, and price points, all of which are rules and parameters that currently are completely shifting. Some of the necessary changes we’re making today might not have been possible before – things like looking at data, how and why we open stores, or even understanding how our consumers shop. This resulted in also being able work on three initiatives this past year, all of which were in the formation of something that could be better adjusted to a digital mindset. A major one, for example, is that we changed our logo from Alexander Wang to one word, all lower case, because that is how people read the name on a website.”
Alexander Wang Spring/Summer 2019 show in New York. Photos: Courtesy of PR.
On the impact of the digital world on his design process:
“There's still a very tactile part to designing. Being able to look at fabric, draping it and seeing what resonates in person versus on a computer screen. Now that we're completely re-platforming our website, building out a product assortment that resonates online versus product assortments that people need to touch and feel in store is something that we need to balance out (…) It's made a lot of advancements in terms of how we look at prints or hardware, which is such a big part of our DNA. Doing things at a much faster pace and speed, those for sure have been influenced by digital advancements.”
On creating a new site and platform for the brand:
“We are definitely at the beginning stages of these developments. Our site and data were owned by a partner prior to this new platform. Acquiring all that was really difficult for us. But this transition will allow us to be closer to our consumer in terms of how they shop, how often they come back to the website, what they are spending on full price products versus off price, what they’re clicking on, how long they are spending on the site or on each item, and how much they are spending on each item.”
Alexander Wang Fall/Winter 2018 show in New York. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
On stepping away from NYFW:
“When we looked at our business, I realized that it was about simplifying our process. You know, we were creating ten collections a year, and there was so much start and stop, so much duplication in what we were doing. I just thought “there has got to be a simpler and purer way to go about this.’ One of the decisions we made was removing seasonality. With seasons being irrelevant, being a part of NYFW didn’t fit our business mindset. It became a different parallel for us.”
On the changes of show cadence:
“We wanted to be more in tune with something that was closer to our consumer, and how they shop online which is part of creating our new platform. There is a certain conversion rate from price points, the kind of items we put online in terms of graphics and materials, versus things that are a higher price point or that need to be tried on in stores. We looked at data, comparing products and figuring out what needed to be available online and that could really service our growth potential, and focus on online versus brick and mortar.”
Alexander Wang Spring/Summer 2018 show in New York. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.
On his role in creating a new narrative for the brand:
“I think today, more so than ever, discovering my brand’s purpose beyond just creating beautiful products that I am passionate about is putting my values and my principles first. Now that I reached an audience, and one that I have a strong connection with and who share similar values as mine, I have the opportunity to tell a different story of what an American lifestyle brand can be. It’s about acknowledging that I come from a different background and built this lifestyle brand while training in Europe, and it’s about pushing the boundaries of how fashion and lifestyle are perceived in everyday life. You know, there are things I’ve realized only in my grown up years. My last collection was titled ‘Immigrant Americana’ and it was deeply inspired by my parents’ immigration story, which I only recently began to truly understand, and which I embarrassingly didn’t ask about in my teenage years. I never knew of the details of how my parents came to America and how different my life was than that of my brother and sister, who were born in Taiwan."