I'm going to start this off with a disclaimer: I drink the Alexander Wang Kool-Aid, and I have from the beginning. What he's selling at his namesake label, in terms of both a lifestyle and a look, I've always wanted to buy. (I even briefly interned at his company in my early 20s.) This is the main reason I don't think it's a bad thing that he and Balenciaga are allegedly parting ways.
Back in college I watched one of his first ready-to-wear shows on YouTube — spring 2008, when the designer was just 23 years old — and a few things immediately struck me. One, how fucking cool the models looked as they languidly came down the runway. Their hair had that just-rolled-out-of-bed quality; their eyeliner looked like it could be left over from last night's party; and their clothing — which this particular season was styled by Erin Wasson and consisted of things like button-down shirt dresses, ripped jean shorts, silky rompers and those semi-sheer t-shirts that became so sought after they launched their own diffusion line — could've conceivably been pulled from a pile on their bedroom floors. This is an effortlessness that many try to achieve but so few can, and this, at least for me, is where Wang's magic lies.
In the seasons that followed, the aesthetic grew stronger. The grungy black beanies, ripped stockings, oversized coats and chain-strapped bags he showed in fall 2008 are arguably what made model-off-duty style a fully characterizable "thing." His very first shoes — black, pierced platform sandals for spring 2009 — launched sizable waiting lists at retailers like Opening Ceremony. For fall 2009, his first show after winning the 2008 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, Wang set up a runway at the legendary Roseland Ballroom (R.I.P.) and sent Natasha Poly stomping out to the first bars of "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses. I wasn't in attendance, but damn, do I wish I was.
This is all, of course, part of expertly crafted branding strategy — one that draws much of its strength from its authenticity. Wang's hip-hop heavy runway soundtracks are composed of songs he himself loves; his debaucherous after-parties, with surprise performances from the likes of Courtney Love and Busta Rhymes, and his loyalty to a gang of too-cool-for-school models — like Anna Ewers, whom he is credited with discovering — all scream Wang. He knows, too, how to build hype. His seasonal ad campaigns never fail to get people talking, and few Fashion Week events are as FOMO-inducing (or purposely exclusive) as his are. At his eponymous brand, Wang is selling a culture just as much as he's selling clothes — one that's mainstream enough to resonate with fans of many nationalities and ages, but also underground enough that tapping into it feels like you're on the cutting edge of what's about to blow up.
During the short time that Wang has been at Balenciaga, he's produced beautiful clothes and striking ad campaigns, as well as some truly memorable red carpet moments and even a new "It" bag — the "Le Dix." But the energy he brings to his own label never quite seemed to be there. The famous Alexander Wang attitude — which, from my perspective at least, seems completely genuine to his personality — is absent, partly, I suspect, because of the reverence he feels for Balenciaga's archives. An ad campaign that takes place on an LED-lit party bus or in some urban high school bathroom seems dead-on for his downtown New York-based brand. For storied label Balenciaga? Maybe not so much. I'd much rather see him focus his creative energies at a place where he can be totally himself, as it's that spark that's turned him into a bonafide celebrity designer.
There are not many people who could convince editors, buyers, etc. to take a ferry to Brooklyn on the busiest night of New York Fashion Week or to line up for a party at a gas station, but Wang is one of the few. These are the type of things that he can bring to life as his own boss, but perhaps not while he's at the creative lead of a house with such history. Maybe in some cases, especially in the fashion business, two big projects aren't better than one.
The good news is that Wang may be about to secure an investment to enlarge his vision. Both WWD and the New York Times report that a minority investment in Alexander Wang Inc. is imminent, and according to Vanessa Friedman, the pool has been narrowed down to just one outside party.
I for one can't wait to see what he comes up with next.