Has Alexander Wang already moved on from Balenciaga and found an investor for his namesake brand?
According to market sources, Wang is negotiating with General Atlantic, the New York-based growth equity firm that is headed by chief executive officer William Ford. It could not be learned how much of the company Wang might sell, or the level of the investment being discussed.
Ford, who is engaged to former Saks Fifth Avenue president Marigay McKee, serves on the boards of several portfolio companies including Tory Burch, Oak Hill Advisors and Markit. In addition to Burch, General Atlantic’s portfolio companies include Gilt Groupe, Too Faced, Airbnb, Vox Media, BuzzFeed and Alibaba Group.
Wang declined comment Friday, and a spokeswoman for General Atlantic said the firm doesn’t comment on speculation.
A looming new investor in his own company could be one of the reasons Wang and Kering, the parent company of Balenciaga, decided to part ways. Balenciaga said Friday it and Wang, who has served as the house’s creative director for the past three years, had agreed not to renew his contract. The news confirmed an exclusive report in WWD on July 29.
“Balenciaga and Alexander Wang today announce their joint decision not to renew their contract beyond its initial term,” the French fashion house said. It added that the spring 2016 Balenciaga show on Oct. 2, during Paris Fashion Week, will be Wang’s last and a new creative director will be announced “in due course.”
The statement did not detail the precise reasons for the separation, but Wang suggested he wanted to focus on his own New York-based brand.
“It’s been an incredible experience to work with a couture house in Paris. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work for this historical maison. I would like to thank the brilliant team at Balenciaga for their collaboration and for what we have accomplished together, and I am looking forward to taking my own brand to its next level of growth,” Wang said.
The designer was hired in December 2012 as the successor to Nicolas Ghesquière, who left after a 15-year tenure and subsequently joined Louis Vuitton. Wang brought his flair for showmanship to Balenciaga, staging one show on a glass platform under which roiled dark smoke. He also imbued the brand with a darker, Goth-tinged mood, mostly designing clothes in black and white.
Reports have been circulating for several months that Wang was seeking an investor for his own company.
General Atlantic provides capital and strategic support for growth companies. The firm was founded in 1980 to invest the fortune of entrepreneur and philanthropist Charles Feeney, one of the cofounders of DFS Group Ltd., the duty-free shops. As of Dec. 31, 2014, General Atlantic had about $17.4 billion in assets under management.
In the 10 years since Wang launched his namesake label, the company has expanded from six unisex cashmere intarsia sweaters to a $100 million women’s and men’s contemporary brand with 700 points of distribution and 25 freestanding stores worldwide.
Known for his edgy, androgynous design aesthetic and proclivity toward black, the company produces the Alexander Wang and T by Alexander Wang sportswear collections, as well as accessories, footwear and handbags. His business is independent and family-run. In a WWD interview in April when he was named one of the WWD six designers to watch, Wang said his plans eventually called for outside investment or financial partnership. While he admitted at the time he was not actively looking for a backer, he said he met with a lot of people.
“There’s definitely an openness,” he told WWD. “Capital to open retail is definitely a very important part of the next phase for us, and supply chain and resources, IT — those things can be aided by having a partner.”
Being independent has allowed Wang to open a freestanding store in Beijing, as well as a flagship on London’s Albemarle Street, rather than in an expected locations such as Los Angeles. Wang also launched a very provocative ad campaign for his new denim line that depicted a female model masturbating while wearing Wang’s jeans pulled down to her knees. The jeans sold out.
Building an infrastructure is seen as a key priority for the brand. He said in the WWD interview that infrastructure, retail, human resources and aligning the efforts of his three offices in New York, Paris and Hong Kong, with more than 200 employees, were the next steps. When Wang opened his Paris office last year, the company’s market share shifted to 60 percent European and 40 percent domestic. “Europe has been the biggest growth market for us in the last two years,” he said. The U.K. is among the top foreign markets for Wang, alongside China, Italy and Canada.
The designer on Saturday opened his biggest branded flagship yet, on Albemarle Street in London’s Mayfair neighborhood. The new flagship is Wang’s 25th store worldwide. On deck is a store in Macau, which will open this fall.
Meantime, it is understood that the search for Wang’s successor at Balenciaga is in its early stages.
According to one Paris source, Kering is open to considering a lesser-known, hidden talent for the plum post, emboldened by the positive feedback and outpouring of goodwill it had in promoting Gucci insider Alessandro Michele to succeed Frida Giannini at the helm of the Italian brand earlier this year. That could make the guessing game of “who’s next” a more complicated enterprise.