Alexander Wang wasn’t allowed to shoot free T-shirts into the crowd on Nov. 3 during the Q&A at 92Y as he had hoped, but the designer fired away all sorts of facts about his life.
Keeping attendees laughing throughout his lengthy chat with Fern Mallis, the American designer didn’t hold back about some of the more trying challenges he faced breaking into New York’s fashion scene and starting his business 11 years ago. How a Parsons School of Design dropout rocketed to international fame is a story in itself, but Wang’s trajectory was only enhanced by his humor. Whether describing dealing with his first hangover, the trials of working with family members or how the 2008 recession was a ho-hum event for his mega-million dollar company, the designer kept the audience entertained.
In New York to attend Parsons, Wang spent his first summer working mornings and some weekends at Barneys and interned at Marc Jacobs. School didn’t have the same excitement. “Everyone has a different way of learning and adapting for an environment. It just wasn’t for me,” he said. Wang told Mallis that young designers need all kinds of experience “Retail, editorial and from the creative side, you have to get it from all the angles.”
Recalling how it was “all hands on deck” when he started interning for Marc Jacobs months before one of his fall shows, Wang learned, “You’ve got to multitask. Marc has a very specific way of working that works for him. He works on the collection and a lot of his creative ideas come toward the end. It’s an amazing energy in the office. People get very excited by his energy and his ideas. They go all-in. It was an incredible time especially as my first New York experience.”
There were also more sobering exchanges such as his promotion to chairman and chief executive officer of his company, succeeding his mother and sister-in-law. “From Day One, my family has said, ‘We’re here to support you, we want to do the right thing for the business.’ I’d come back from Paris [as creative director of Balenciaga] and I wanted to have more communication in the brand. I have always said that is the most important thing in the operation and the success of the company,” noting his sister-in-law wanted to spend time with her children and his mother wanted to chill out a bit. “I don’t know that this is forever but right now at this moment I felt this was the time for me to really be more educated in all aspects.”
On the Balenciaga years:
“I would fly Sunday night, get to Paris at 6 a.m., go to the office at 9 and work until 8 [p.m.] Monday through Friday. Then I’d take the red-eye back on Friday, have dinner with my friends [in New York] and do it all again two or three weeks later. It was pretty crazy….It was an incredible team of people keeping me on track and disciplined. But I decided it was time to go back to my own brand and really focus my efforts on clearly something I started from the ground up.”
On the importance of winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s $200,000 versus the mentorship with Diane von Furstenberg that came with it:
“The mentorship — for sure. Money is like in and out. You’ve got to pay a bill or…Diane came to my showroom, and the first thing she said was, ‘Clarity, you have so much clarity with what you want to do.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I do? I feel like I’m so confused.’ But I was like, ‘I’ll take that.’”
On working with his family:
“It’s kind of like cutting an onion. You’re really excited to have the onion, but you’re crying at the same time….They’ll ask, ‘Why don’t you come over for dinner?’ and I’m like, ‘I spent Monday through Friday with you.’”