“Once you see it, you can’t stop thinking about it,” said Alexander Wang. The image in question is from his denim launch campaign, now circulating the Internet, of model Anna Ewers oiled up and shot from the waist down in a pair of Alexander Wang jeans pulled halfway down her thighs, her hand positioned to suggest masturbation. Another photograph has her splayed in a chair, wearing nothing but a pair of jeans around her ankles and the “x” from the Denim x Alexander Wang logo strategically positioned across her nipples. “I wanted an image that would provoke,” he said.
The women’s denim line — three cuts in three washes each — launches today and will go on sale Dec. 8 in Wang’s New York store and on his U.S. Web site.
Wang is well aware that the world does not need more jeans. “It’s such an oversaturated market, as everyone knows,” the designer said last week at a photo studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. If he was going to willfully enter a crowded category, he was going to do it on his terms, setting himself apart from the competition with his image — in addition to his fit and fabrication — strategically designed to stir some old-fashioned controversy in the
tradition of Calvin Klein, which has been noticeably absent in contemporary fashion advertising. Wang used to tear those images out of magazines and hang them on his walls, and now he hopes his campaign, shot by Steven Klein and art-directed by Pascal Dangin of KiDS, will stir the same reaction for a new generation. “It’s not provocative just in terms of sexy, but provocative to provoke conversation,” said Wang of his denim imagery. “I’m not dictating what that message is exactly. The interesting part is to see how people interpret it, and what they have to say about it. Of course, there are going to be people who disagree with it.”
Aside from courting controversy, the denim launch is a business initiative. Wang’s president, Rodrigo Bazan, sees denim as another prong in the company’s rapid retail expansion over the past four years. “We’re going to have 21 stores by the end of this year and the more we grow, the more that we believe we have to have a lifestyle component in those stores,” he said. “Denim was a natural expansion.”
Bazan talked about “adding layers,” denim being one of them, in terms of pricing, from entry level on up across ready-to-wear and T. For the former, the midlevel is between $700 and $1,400, and goes up to $5,000 for runway pieces. Denim is obviously on the opposite end of the spectrum.
What Bazan did not comment on were sales projections. As for what percentage of the business denim could potentially account for, “We envision it being an important category over time, but without being a priority over rtw and T,” he said. When asked about market saturation, he added, “We only focus on our brand and what feels right for our brand. We did not focus on the marketplace so much, to be honest. We know what’s out there in terms of product.”
For denim in particular, Wang and Bazan see immediacy as critical, which is why the collection is going on sale at Wang’s New York store and domestic online site a few days after all of the five Klein images are released. Wang’s international e-commerce will have the collection in January, with wholesale distribution to follow in March.
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Wang is not entirely uninitiated in the category. His first runway collections in 2007 featured distressed denim, and he’s featured jeans in T by Alexander Wang. But he held off on an official denim launch until he had the research and resources to put him in a position of “authority” on the subject. “At the end of the day, you can’t really be revolutionary with denim,” he said. “But you can go in and tweak and really find the nuances and the way to put it together.” Wang spent two years researching and perfecting fit and fabrication.
A bit of a denim snob, Wang is as particular about the amount of stretch in the item as he is about the terminology. The Wang 001 is not a “skinny” jean per se, but a “slim” with a high rise to sit at the waist as well as 1 percent stretch for the two indigo washes and 2 percent for the black wash. The Wang 002, or relaxed fit, has zero stretch and is based on a classic men’s fit, but cut for a woman’s body. Then there’s the Wang 003. “We’re not calling them boyfriend jeans,” he said of the boy cut, which rides low and has a wider yet tapered leg. “I hate it when you roll them and your ankle is swimming, so I cut it so you roll it twice and it stays pegged.”
In researching his denim niche, Wang surveyed his female friends and the girls whose style he admires, finding that many of them bought vintage jeans with little stretch and a higher rise and then tapered the legs themselves. When he couldn’t find 1 percent stretch denim, he developed his own with a Turkish mill. He was careful to cut his slim style so that it wasn’t a jegging and could fit over a boot. The relaxed fit had to bunch at the knee. The three washes include variations on light indigo, medium indigo and black. The Stay Black wash has a special reactive potassium dye that resists fading two times longer than most black washes. Rivets are black, as opposed to traditional copper or brass, so they almost disappear into the denim, and there is a single black leather belt loop, a variation on the black leather back pockets that have appeared on his previous jeans for T by Alexander Wang. Everything is manufactured in Los Angeles and prices range from $225 to $295.
“As someone who wears jeans almost every day,” said Wang, noting that at the moment he was wearing black sweatpants from the T collection, “I wanted to do something that I really believed in and that felt really authentic and had all of the nuances that me and my friends want.”
As calculated and focused as the launch is, Wang does consider denim a major growth opportunity within reason. His goal is not to be in every denim bar in every department store. Denim separates, such as skirts, jean jackets and shorts, are on the table and men’s is under discussion, but, “I don’t want us to be like, ‘OK, now we’re going to do this cut and that cut and this cut,’” said Wang. “Then you start losing your identity.”