Sometimes serious, sometimes laughing, Alexander Wang raced through his 10-year career Thursday night at “The Atelier With Alina Cho.”
Guests at the hourlong talk at the Metropolitan Museum of Art learned how the designer left Parsons at the age of 19 for what he thought would be a break. Instead, he wound up starting his own signature knitwear label that evolved into a global business. Along with a cadre of awards, Wang spoke of his three-year run as Balenciaga’s creative director, his new deal with Apple and one “very special” lesser-known gift — he never gets hangovers.
Wang also clued them in to the fact that “Everywhere I go people say, ‘Is your Mom Vera Wang?’” he said. “It probably would have made everything a lot easier, but no.” Such off-handed insights seemed to give the crowd the greatest charge, like the fact that bringing Amy Schumer as his date for this year’s Met Ball made a lot of people shout, “Get out of the way. We want her.”
But at 32, Wang said he now saves his partying for the weekends but he still loves his fashion week after parties. “As much as I love fashion and I work in fashion, there are two things about people in fashion: Sometimes there is too much ego or too much shade. I’m not perfect, but I like to have fun. If I’m going to have a party, I want people to have fun and not sit around drinking Champagne saying, ‘Hiiiii.’ You’ve already seen me three times today — let’s dance.”
Here, Wang’s approach to a number of issues.
On running a successful operation:
Alexander Wang: I’m very passionate about what I do, but I’m also very realistic. Fashion is a business. Whether you believe it or not — at the end of the day you have to sell clothes and create an idea and connection with your consumer….Every day I think about what can be different. How can we make that ours? Then I think about, “Has that been done before?’ What’s been done before? We don’t want to replicate it. Let’s do it our way.” You have to take risks in order to innovate.
His company’s holacracy:
A.W.: The best ideas don’t have to come from the top. I want everyone I work with to think like entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant, intern, director, v.p. — challenge your day-to-day. Think about what you do and if it doesn’t make sense, speak up. And I want to hear those ideas.
Working at Balenciaga:
A.W.: [There was] all the noise of people saying whether I could do it or I couldn’t do it — this was something that I wanted to do. I’m human — if you read the reviews or the critiques, it can get to you. There’s no way you can hide behind an iron wall. But you find your way to navigate around it. For the first two years, I told my assistants, “Do not show me the reviews. Don’t print them out. Don’t put them on my desk.” If I believe in what I do, that’s enough for me.
…And leaving Balenciaga:
A.W.: By year three, I was like, “OK, what am I doing? Where does my focus need to be?” It was my brand — I own it with my family. It was time to go home to take Alexander Wang to the next chapter. It was hard to walk away, but Mr. Pinault is very gracious and so understanding. We’ve had a few conversations. You know, it’s always so hard to keep a secret in this industry.
Selling in the digital age:
A.W.: We will make the pre-collection bigger and then commit to a certain amount of looks and styles that will walk down the spring runway. But don’t release images because obviously you don’t want to ruin the surprise of what people will see in September. Shoppable runways is something we’ve been thinking about. We know that the future is not in wholesale and it is probably not in retail — at least for us. Everyone has their own way of looking at it and digital is going to be a very huge component. You read about Amazon with their $400 billion platform and things you’re doing. What they don’t have right now is a designer. If you can marry the two resources, platforms, infrastructures and statistics, that could make a very interesting business.
Being Apple’s first fashion curator and creating their playlists “Chill,” “Hype” and “Vibe”:
A.W.: This is the first time they are kind of venturing into the fashion sector. They really wanted to create a seamless kind of world — a platform for people to go for music and fashion. That’s kind of how I see the world today. There aren’t much clean lines that segment a musician from a fashion designer. Everyone is their own brand today.