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Alexander Wang is known for two things: his rapid ascent to the highest echelons of the fashion industry and the fun-loving attitude he has maintained while doing so. In a conversation with former CNN anchor Alina Cho at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday evening, Wang fielded questions about the past and future of his business while charming the pants off the audience, drawing laughs for quips about, for instance, a “very special gift” that enables his body to resist hangovers.
Though he made waves for landing the creative director role at Balenciaga in 2012, Wang departed the Kering-owned label after just three years to focus on building his eponymous brand, which he had continued to lead during that time. Now that Wang is full-time in New York again, he and his team are thinking carefully about how their business needs to evolve to take advantage of today’s retail landscape.
In accord with designers’ mass changes to their Fashion Week formats, that includes altering how he shows his collections. In late May, Wang announced that photos of his resort collection would be embargoed until the clothing lands in stores in November, with the exception of some resort pieces that will hit the runway at New York Fashion Week in September with the Spring 2017 collection.
Wang told Cho that he would consider a true see-now-buy-now format, too. But the 32-year-old designer also acknowledges that business solutions might come from outside the fashion industry.
“We know that the future is not in wholesale, we know that it's probably not in retail, at least for us, and digital is going to be a huge component of it,” Wang says. “You think about Amazon, with their $400 billion platform, and what they're doing. What they don’t have right now is a designer. If you can marry the two resources and platforms and infrastructures, then I think that would be a very interesting thing.”
One area into which Wang really should extend his business is hospitality. He was almost certainly joking when he got into a conversation with Cho about starting his own restaurant, à la Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bar, but the concept actually seems like a fantastic idea.
"What we need is a good after-hours place you can go eat after you go to the club that’s not a diner, that’s dark so you feel sexy still,” Wang says. "We’ll see how that goes."
It would definitely be a hit with the Binx Walton, Lexi Boling, and Hanne Gaby Odiele types that make up his #WangSquad. And where Wang and his off-duty model posse goes, the rest of New York else inevitably follows.
While much of Wang’s conversation with Cho leaned toward the future, the designer was willing to talk about his time at Balenciaga and decision to leave it. The first year Wang spent at the Paris-based label was occupied with acclimating to a “different lifestyle and pace than what I’m used to in New York.” Year two was “crazy,” due to the (hugely successful) release of Alexander Wang x H&M.
“By year three, I was like, okay, what am I really doing?” Wang says. He realized he needed to go back to New York and build the brand he started in 2007.
Wang avoided taking a stance on the recent game of designer musical chairs when Cho brought up Raf Simons leaving Christian Dior, Alber Elbaz’s forced exit from Lanvin, and Francisco Costa departing Calvin Klein. “All I can say is that for me, I wanted to come back to my own label,” he says. “I'm here. My focus is completely on [my team] right now.”