Alexander Wang is a busy man these days. Not only is he continuing to build out his own eight-year-old label -- which now has three women's ready-to-wear lines, a men's collection and accessories for both -- but he's also leading the creative direction of Balenciaga, a role he assumed last December.
"It's been almost a year now since I signed the contract, it's been a whirlwind trip," Wang told WWD's Bridget Foley at the trade publication's New York apparel conference on Tuesday. "Essentially, it's been double the amount of work, but it's been so enriching, such a challenge I've really enjoyed."
Wang says he took on the role at Balenciaga in part because he wanted to learn how its business works -- learnings he wants to take back to his own company. "I really took it on as a way to see myself incorporate into a different business structure, something that might challenge me in a way that my own company might be able to grow into in a few years or decades," he says.
Foley asked Wang how he distinguishes between the labels creatively. He says that his own label is "a completely personal product" that expresses his own voice. At Balenciaga, the house's heritage and DNA is always in his mind, whether during fittings or talking about stores. He insists that working within Balenciaga's history and framework is "definitely not a hindrance," but an enjoyable challenge. He appreciates, too, the opportunity to address a much larger audience.
Wang adds that the dual roles have forced him to be "very clear" in terms of what he wants from his teams. "You have to know what you want and go with it. Sometimes [your decisions] are wrong but you have to be willing to take risk and move forward," he says, a sentiment that was echoed by Conde Nast artistic director and Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour in a later session.
Wang went on to talk about his early days growing up in San Francisco and why he decided to drop out of Parsons after his second year. "I felt I wasn't being challenged and I really wanted to find something that was much more hands on," he says. "I felt I was learning a lot more at my internships and I thought I would be able to break and discover a different opportunity. I then launched my own line which I never thought would take off the way it did."
Wang says the creation of his first collection was "all really based on instinct and gut." He felt there was an audience there -- people he knew who couldn't find the kind of clothing they wanted. He describes his own label as witty, humorous, "a bit ironic" and experimental -- it has a "non-precious outlook" on fashion that relies on everyday items like t-shirts, jeans and sweatshirts, but "made into these fantastical things."
Today, Alexander Wang carries three collections: The main collection line under his own name; Core, which is "based more on tailoring" and the company's ongoing bestsellers; and T, which he insists is not a diffusion line but "more of a component," focused on jerseys and knits and lately some leather. He's also now doing accessories, including bags and shoes, as well as ready-to-wear and bags for men. Wang has also started producing everyday items, like ash trays and lighter covers, as well as "fantasy items" like black-wrapped boxing gloves -- all of which he says have been fun to design and have done quite well on the sales floor.
Wang's company just opened its 16th store, in Tokyo, last month. Beyond its own retail operations, his clothes and accessories sell at about 700 other stores globally. About 40% of his sales come from the U.S., the remaining 60% are concentrated mainly in Europe and Asia. While Wang says he plans to continue growing the company aggressively, he demurred when asked whether he was seeking outside investment. "We're family-owned right now and we've been really happy with our growth," he says. But never say never: "I'm not saying [we'd never raise outside funding], [there] might be a time when we consider it."
And how big can the Alexander Wang brand get? Does he one day think he'll be as big as one of his professed idols, Ralph Lauren? "To achieve a fraction of his success would be incredible," Wang said. It was a modest response, but given Wang's earlier comment about wanting to make his company as big as Balenciaga, perhaps in just the next few years, we think his ambitions for the company are far from modest.