Part 1: Ten Meets Alexander Wang In London
Alexander Wang has exquisite skin. Glowing. Radiant. I notice this fact because last Friday I found myself sat next to him on a large leather sofa in his London store. He was at his European flagship for a brief few hours, part of a whistle-stop London excursion – whistle-stop, as everything in the life of Mr Wang seems to be. He is busy – ten years since releasing to the world a capsule collection of six unisex garments, he now finds himself head of a worldwide fashion behemoth with stores in China, New York and London and a truckload of devotees in many other cities beside. And, in the energetic world of Mr Wang, turning ten doesn’t mean there’s any signs of slowing down. In fact, quite the opposite. Here, over two parts, we talk to him about all things Alexander Wang, accompanied by a selection of backstage photographs from our favourite shows of the past decade….
Jack Moss: So how does it feel now that you’ve turned ten years old?
Alexander Wang: Turned ten years old! (He laughs) Now I’m ten …
JM: As a brand! Has it gone by quickly? Or does it feel like a lifetime?
AW: You know what, it’s a hard question. It feels like I’ve been doing this for so long. I’ve only known this, this is my first job officially! A third of my life has been devoted to this, but at the same time I feel that there’s so much more that I want to do, and we’re only kind of at the infancy of the brand. We’ve been able to accomplish a lot within this amount of time that I see a much longer road ahead of us. So I’m really excited about that and optimistic, but it’s not until you look back, but when I do I’m like oh “wow, I’ve been through a lot!”
JM: How often do you get that chance to sit and look back? Everything’s so fast now.
AW: Not often. Last year we got to do it quite a bit because you know, it’s our ten-year anniversary, and we really went through old look books and thought about what we wanted to say. It was a lot of reflecting. But now, this year, it’s been -let’s move forward, what’s next?
JM: What, do you think, has been the high point so far? Maybe it’s hard to say because there’s been so many big moments…
AW: I think opening stores in New York, London, and China, our three flagships, that was a high point. You know, it’s not really until you open a store do you really see your environment and then see the customers that come to the store just to see your brand. It’s one thing to be in a department store, but it’s different when people come just to hang in your space.
JM: It must be exciting to see your name above the door, to have your vision in one space.
JM: We’re in the London store, what were you thinking about when you were making the store? What did you want to say with the space?
AW: I always believe in a very elevated atmosphere, you know, elevated but unpretentious, that people feel like they can come and hang out and shop with their friends but where the service is top quality. The music still feels fun – it’s not stiff, it’s not contrived and it’s creating that dichotomy in the same way we approach the collection. I wanted to extend it into the environment. It can still be luxury but it still feels street, cool… comfortable.
JM: It’s so nice that the space is so big in here as well; London stores are all so tiny. Did you ever picture it all going this far? Are you an ambitious person? Was it like, “I’m going to build this massive worldwide brand now”?
AW: I mean, I definitely am very driven and I do give my all when it comes to something I feel committed to. But I don’t feel that I ever would have imagined that I’d get to this point in the amount of time that we’ve been working, I think you always hope and dream. I’m quite realistic about things, accept them, move on. That’s the kind of the person I’ve always been. I feel very blessed to be here, and at this point, but I don’t think I thought it would actually happen.
JM: It feels like everything’s kind of fallen into place in a really nice way.
AW: Thank you.
JM: When you were growing up, was fashion in the proximity of your world, or was it something that came later? What was your first brush with fashion?
AW: It was never in the proximity of my world when I was growing up. You know, my mum’s not a seamstress, my dad’s not a tailor, I didn’t know anyone really in fashion or really in the creative field, and it was something more of a personal infatuation. Something organic – whether I was picking up a fashion magazine by accident and then learning about designers and then talking to my family, you know, saying this is where I want to go, come with me through this journey…
JM: Do you remember any of the designers that you admired at that point?
AW: Yeah you know it was probably early 90s so – Tom Ford for Gucci, Helmut Lang, Margiela. American fashion was Marc (Jacobs). You know, I definitely had my idols.
JM: You must have met some of them by now.
AW: Yeah! It’s so surreal to be at an event where you’re sitting next to them or doing something with them. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.
JM: So. Clothing. When you’re starting a collection, what’s the process behind it, do you look at an image, a garment, a piece of music or something?
AW: It’s a big kind of hodge-podge of things. It starts with a lot of imagery, but also with a lot of ideas of “ok, you know, where were we last season, what do we feel is still relevant. What do we want to keep pushing?” Then we look at patterns and prints. It’s rarely one directive, because that’s not how people dress anymore, they don’t wear head-to-toe one thing – so we look at lingerie, we look at utility, we look at sportswear, we look at menswear, and it all kind of comes into one dialogue more towards the end. It’s a very organic process.
JM: Are you the sort of person that when you look back at collections, can be like, “I’m really satisfied with that” or are you always like “oh I wish I’d done that differently”. And is that something that drives your creative process?
AW: Sometimes I finish a collection … I would say, eighty percent of the time I finish a collection and I feel that I wish I would have had more time, you know, to do keep doing it or had more time to figure something out. But there’s a good amount of collections that I feel like, ok yeah, we did a really nice job on that, but usually I feel like there’s more that I could tweak about it, you know.
JM: Obviously the brand is now a huge business, how much does that business element come into your day-to-day life?
AW: I really believe in cross pollination – the more we communicate as a team and as a brand, between creative and business and merchandisers, and press people, the more we understand each other’s goals and what we want to achieve. I sit down with the design team, and we meet with merchandising, we meet with sales, probably on a weekly basis. And you know, we speak to marketing, we speak to press, also on a weekly basis, and it’s gruelling, and it’s probably something that’s not done at many places, but that’s how I’ve always been.
JM: Do you enjoy doing it? Or you’d prefer to just make clothes?
AW: No – I definitely enjoy it, if it wasn’t natural I wouldn’t be so adamant about it.
JM: What is an average day like in the life of Alexander Wang? I guess they are pretty varied…
AW: You’re right there. There isn’t really an average …. but I usually start my day at nine, and it goes usually until seven or eight. I have meetings probably on the hour every hour. My schedule also changed so drastically within the last six months because you know, I don’t have to go to Paris every two weeks, and such as that, but my calendar definitely still got filled up real fast since I came back.
JM: Do you still travel a lot? Or is it mainly in New York that you’re based now?
AW: Mainly New York. When I do travel, it’s more you know, visiting stores or something really closely related to the Alexander Wang brand. But I don’t have to go to Paris as much, which I’m happy about right now!
JM: How do you feel about this conversation about the pace of fashion at the moment? Is it moving too fast?
AW: I relate to both sides of the argument but more recently I’m excited about the pace being quick. I feel that as a person I’ve really grown up with this social media generation – you know, wanting things when you see it and being very kind of… I guess impatient. It forces you to think a different way, and you know, having a fashion show twice a year is great but then sometimes you feel like, oh, there are so many other opportunities – capsule collection, things with retail.
JM: Have you talked with your team about making any changes?
AW: Yeah, we’re actually showing portions of our resort collection in the September show. So this is the first time we’re doing that. We actually have always embargoed all the images, which we’ve been doing for two or three years now with our men’s and our T collection, so we’re starting to do it with our women’s.
JM: You were the first brand to do that as well, embargo the images until the collection hits stores…
AW: Yeah – I thought why are we putting out all our images so that Zara can just rip them off? Why are we doing the job for them?
JM: So you’re working on the show already, is it almost done? Or … I know that some …
AW: (He laughs) Almost done? No!
JM: Some people work so far in advance…
AW: No, I do work in advance, but we let incubate and evolve. I do have some designer friends and they’re like, “yeah, I’m working on pre-fall already” and I’m like “how are you working on pre-fall?!”
Any clues as to like any of the ideas behind the collection?
AW: Has anyone ever answered that? You know, I’ve always wanted to know, a lot of journalists ask that question, I want to know if any designers ever really answered that questions…
AW: Oh really?! Well it’s all top secret for now…
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview, coming SOON…
Photographs by Jason Lloyd-Evans, backstage from top SS16, SS16, AW15, AW14, SS15