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Alexander Wang's final collection for Balenciaga debuted today, a march of defiantly unstructured charmeuse silk looks set to a soundtrack of '90s LA hip hop. "I'm going, going back, back to Cali, Cali," declared the 31-year-old designer, a San Francisco native. He was with the French fashion house for just six seasons; a blip on the radar compared to his predecessor Nicolas Ghesquière, who spent 15 years as creative director of the company before moving to Louis Vuitton in 2013.
Wang was an attractive choice for Balenciaga for a handful of reasons. He's young, American, and in touch with both of those lucrative audiences. His namesake line and diffusion projects (notably T, Objects, and a collab with H&M) proved to sell well, and he slayed the handbag market with a number of styles that earned It-bag status. His personal image, name, reputation, and designs seamlessly blended into a holistic, thoroughly modern interpretation of a brand.
There's been no official statement from Wang or Balenciaga on why the two aren't renewing the contract that seals their partnership, but the widely-believed rumor is that Wang is close to finalizing a sizable financial deal backing his own line. On the heels of his final bow for the brand, a laser fast look at Wang's influence on Balenciaga.
The clothes Wang sent down the Balenciaga runway, beginning with the fall 2013 season, were well received by critics, but didn't quite blow them away. Hamish Bowles wrote for Vogue.com of Wang's debut show, "It was a thoughtful, pragmatic collection that carried the promise of an intriguing new direction for the house."
Throughout his time with the company, Wang managed to pay respectful homage to the house's founder, Cristóbal Balenciaga, with recurring brand signatures like cocoon coats, molded peplums, and petal skirts. Some of his sporty taste showed through in riffs on mesh material for resort and spring 2015, and exposed zippers and vibrant colors for fall 2014. Those acid yellow coats aside, Wang's palette at Balenciaga was consistently black, white, nude, pink, blue, and lavender.
A look back at Alexander Wang's Balenciaga, from fall 2013 to spring 2016.
The initial fall 2013 show was set on a black-and-white marble runway, a material that popped up again and again throughout Wang's career with the house. A boutique in downtown Manhattan, just three and a half blocks north of the Alexander Wang flagship on Grand Street, was done in 5,400 square feet of Verde Rameggiato marble; Wang told New York Magazine at the time, "This color green [is] regal and aristocratic but also not so obvious."
Marble made its way to bags, too, including the Le Dix style introduced in 2013. That was the Wang-era It bag answer, though it never quite reached the fever pitch of the enduring City style, the ubiquitous biker jacket-inspired bag that enjoyed years and years of booming sales.
Wang did a killer job getting his Balenciaga dresses — and pants — on American and British megastars. Straight out the gate, Carey Mulligan and Julianne Moore wore looks to the 2013 Met Gala. Kristen Wiig followed for the 2014 Met Gala, and in 2015 Lady Gaga, Carey Mulligan, and Taraji P. Henson — Empire's Cookie — all wore stunning Balenciaga looks. Other red carpet placements came in the form of Emma Watson, Zoe Kravitz, Naomi Watts, and Kim Kardashian. Kerry Washington educated the celebu-masses on how to do a red carpet while pregnant at the 2014 Golden Globes, looking elegant in an off-white gown with a simple, face-framing V-neck.
Advertising campaigns featured equally recognizable faces in the same vein: A-list but not overexposed, cool but not overly controversial. There was Gisele with a buzz cut for fall 2014, Kate Moss and Lara Stone tag-teaming fall 2015, and a suddenly-svelte Sam Smith for menswear.
Wang delivered much of what the French brand was after — youth, cool factor, American access — but maybe wasn't getting much out of it himself. His own line is thought to be valued at $100 million currently and he's seeing success in new product categories, like a sold-out denim line. The young designer's time at Balenciaga sounded lonely, living out of a hotel room 12 weeks a year and ordering a lot of Chinese delivery.
With his California hip hop-heavy final show and jubilant sprint down — and around and through — the final Balenciaga runway under his control, it seems Wang is happy to close this chapter and move on. As for what's up with Balenciaga, it's all just rumors for now — ones we'll be chasing 'til Wang's successor is named.