Alexander Wang is assuming a bigger role at his company. He will add the position of chief executive officer and chairman of Alexander Wang Inc. and will remain creative director, effective immediately. Wang founded his house in 2005. Wang informed his staff of his new position at a company town hall meeting this morning, at which he also revealed additional senior-level staff changes.
There are also two new key hires, both with the surname Wang — one a family member, one unrelated. Mary Wang, unrelated to the designer, comes on in the new role of executive vice president. Wang is well-known in the industry, having spent 20 years at Donna Karan, most recently in a long-term run as president of DKNY. She will oversee global operations and report to Alexander Wang.
Caroline Wang, Alexander Wang’s aunt, recently joined the company as executive vice chairman, representing the board and reporting directly to Alexander Wang. With a 30-year career in information technology, Caroline comes from IBM where she was vice president of marketing, information technology and business transformation in Asia-Pacific.
As Wang takes on his expanded responsibilities, his mother Ying Wang and sister-in-law Aimie Wang, who held the positions of chairwoman and ceo respectively, will step down from their roles. Both will remain shareholders and board members. The two women cofounded the company with Wang, along with his brother Dennis Wang, who will continue as an advisor.
“My family and I have been preparing for this shift all along, and after 11 years all family members feel the time is right,” Alexander Wang told WWD. “The family are still board members and give their full support. In addition, executives will gradually be added to the company’s senior management team to support continued growth.”
Things have been stirring at the company for a while. The first indication that shifts in management were to come occurred in May, when Rodrigo Bazan stepped down as president, moving to Thom Browne as chief executive officer. Bazan was Wang’s first brand president, joining the company in December 2010 during its first major growth phase, overseeing the expansion of new product categories and retail markets, including the rollout of 26 stores worldwide.
Such changes reflect the implementation of a significant growth strategy. Since Alexander Wang left his role as creative director of Balenciaga in October 2015 after his contract expired, the designer has been vocal about his total dedication to his own brand. As much as he appears to personally live his label’s cool-kid street image, fueled by the underground music and party scene, not to mention “models off duty” — the look and phrase that put Wang, 32, on the map when he launched the company — he has demonstrated shrewd business instincts from a young age.
“The business side has always come naturally to me,” said Alexander Wang. “With my full-time return to New York, I want to focus on my brand’s strategic growth. Now is the right time to fully synchronize the creative and business aspects of the company and to continue strengthening the dialog we have with our customers. It has always been my goal to create brand value, and to be a brand with integrity and purpose.”
Within 10 years, Wang built the company from a tiny collection of unisex cashmere intarsia sweaters to a $100 million women’s and men’s contemporary brand, which produces Alexander Wang and the T by Alexander Wang line of more casual sportswear. There are also shoes and handbags. In 2014, Wang launched denim, distinguishing himself in a very crowded category with highly provocative ad campaign that depicted a model masturbating while wearing little besides a pair of his jeans. A small range of jewelry was introduced on his spring 2015 runway and expanded for pre-fall.
Last year reports began circulating that Wang was actively seeking an investor, and in August, WWD reported that he was in negotiations with General Atlantic, the New York-based growth equity firm that is headed by chief executive officer William Ford. To date, the Alexander Wang company remains family-owned, though during an April 2015 interview with WWD, Wang said that his goals would eventually call for financial partnership.
“There’s definitely an openness,” he said at the time. “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.” Wang also noted that infrastructure, retail, human resources and aligning the efforts of his three offices in New York, Paris and Hong Kong, with close to 300 employees, were the next steps. The Wang business is currently 60 percent international and 40 percent domestic.
With his new chief executive officer role, Wang joins a short list of designers who run both the business and creative sides. Many young designers consider Ralph Lauren both hero and role model for the way he famously stewarded his company from start-up to industry powerhouse. Last September, Lauren turned over the ceo reins for the first time in his company’s near-50 years when Stefan Larsson came into the company, though Lauren remains co-ceo. Then there’s Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, who was an unconventional choice to replace Angela Ahrendts as ceo in 2013 while retaining his position as chief creative officer.
Ralph Lauren and Burberry are both public companies, while Wang remains privately held. Still, it’s rare for a designer to inhabit the role of ceo. Gabrielle Chanel served as ceo of her company and had several thousand employees, while Giorgio Armani took up the role of ceo after his business and life partner Sergio Galeotti died. Jil Sander also helmed her company before it went public, while Jean Paul Gaultier was briefly president of his namesake company. Tom Ford was famously involved in the commercial and financial side when he was creative director of Gucci, working closely with Domenico De Sole, then Gucci’s ceo.
For Alexander Wang, taking on the duties of ceo is symbolic as well as practical, an alignment of leadership as the company plans for the future. “The company has been strong and growing in a challenging climate,” he said. “There will not be a shift in philosophy, but rather a focus on what my brand stands for and a continued emphasis on brand integrity.”
Whether working from a creative or financial standpoint, Wang is clear on his professional mission: “Stay true to yourself,” he said.