Pin It
Alexander Wang SS17 NYFW Womenswear Dazed Kendall Jenner
Alexander Wang SS17Photography Joshua Woods

Why Alexander Wang is the Madonna of fashion

Through force of will, he became one of the biggest designers in America before turning thirty – but was his SS17 collection another streetwear-inspired CD skip?

Alexander Wang is the embodiment of a dream. 

If you live in America and pay attention to fashion, pop culture, reality television, hip-hop, and/or social media – which everybody does – you know Alex. You know his clothes, his friends, his lifestyle, his references, and his influence. Much in the way designers like Halston and Calvin Klein came to represent a certain rainbow’s end of aspiration for their respective generations, Wang personifies millennial capitalism at its peak, along with the glittering trappings that come with monstrous success at a young age. It’s the reason teenage moguls like Kylie Jenner and the rapper Desiigner float toward his centre of gravity. If you’re young, hot, and killing it, you’re a natural fit for the #WangSquad... or whatever his hashtag is that plays into the cliquey politics that we all hoped would dry up after high school. 

But then again, so much of fashion is invested in selling the promise of fitting in. The speediest way to achieve that end is to mine trends and quickly take ownership of them by one-upping the source material. Andy Warhol did it with paintings. Fashion designers do it with silk, leather, and cashmere. It is, more often than not, the reality of the business. But it doesn’t have to be. Wang’s decision to tap into the current streetwear zeitgeist while trolling his own archive, as he has done in his now past three collections, could be perceived as something of a CD skip. 

“Wang’s decision to tap into the current streetwear zeitgeist while trolling his own archive, as he has done in his now past three collections, could be perceived as something of a CD skip”

“I find it comforting,” one stylist told me, strolling to a Slurpee van in the moments following Wang’s SS17 finale. After announcing that he had partnered with mass sports brand adidas on a collaboration, Wang led his showgoers to a faux music festival staged adjacent to the runway, where he had set up a pop-up McDonald’s, a 7-11, NARS make-up vending machines, Wang x adidas product installations, and an assortment of fully stocked liquor bars. “So much changes so fast, it’s nice to be able to rely on something.” 

Indeed, the new collection read as a carefully curated distillation of popular Wang signatures past – a NOW: THAT’S WHAT I CALL ALEXANDER WANG VOLUME 2017 compilation album: bisected dresses made from pinstriped shirting, silk satin pajama slips, oversized jackets in distressed denim, skater hoodies bearing disaffected slogans like “MIND DETERGENT”, scuba-spirit floor-length dresses, and weatherproof parkas paired with luxury athleisure pieces like black leather biker shorts – the sort of trend that reads more New Jersey circa 2010 than New York City circa now. Perhaps it’s Wang’s affluent upbringing ensconced in big-city glamour that afforded him a quaint fascination with music festivals and suburban mall clothes – things many of us have spent years trying to escape but are now gravitating back toward either through irony or nostalgia, or some combination of both. They’re surely aesthetic wonderlands worthy of Wang’s type of sharp archaeology. On the whole, the offering felt like a somewhat refreshing, self-referential follow-up to his AW16 collection, which had been his second following his exit from his post as artistic director at Balenciaga.

Something has changed for Alex since his experience designing for a major house. During those years that preceded his appointment, one wonders if he was, in some sense, auditioning. My mind retreats to AW10, when Wang served us corporate Melrose Place minxes, or AW13, when he gave us linebacker proportions on Grey Gardens prizefighters. Hungrily toying with lofty delusions of glamour, he had a knack for gagging his audience at best, or at least standing out in a crowded, commercial fashion calendar. We were never quite sure what we’d be challenged with come showtime, and this curious and experimental streak extended to the sets, soundtracks, and casting. Post-Balenciaga, Alex has, at turns, regressed to his inner teenager skipping school and challenged his inner merchandiser to set a standard that befits his own brand’s legacy. His ten year anniversary has come and gone. The Wang girl is having a mid-mid-life crisis. Can you blame her? 

For those of us who’ve come of age professionally in the Wang era, there is a strong affection for Alex and his unfolding story. We look back on his legendary parties – the carnival, the frat, the Chinatown mall, the basement with Foxy Brown – and our lives flash before our eyes. People fought and fell in love on those nights, some probably even became pregnant. Many of us found or cannibalised careers in bleary morning hours lovingly paid for by Alexander Wang. 

“For those of us who’ve come of age professionally in the Wang era, there is a strong affection for Alex and his unfolding story. Many of us found or cannibalised careers in bleary morning hours lovingly paid for by Alexander Wang”

If you knew him when he was young, or have heard stories, you know him as the ultimate fashion fan who hit the jackpot and made it big. Because of this, we see ourselves in Alex – he’s our fashion avatar, a running, smiling, waving, live-action Mickey Mouse... with a bus full of supermodel strippers and endless bottles of Hennessy. He’s a bit like Madonna. Through blind ambition and sheer force of will, Alex decided he was going to be the most famous designer in the world and he practically pulled it off by the age of 30. They both achieved global popularity by pushing boundaries in the beginning of their careers and sustained interest by tapping into fads and surrounding themselves with the right collaborators. Both of them have landed on a marketing message of rebellion, wielding unpredictable and funny social media accounts to back it up. (Speaking of Madonna, she was there in the front row, with Lourdes. You could practically hear the inner monologue, screaming “See me? I’m a cool mom!” It’s all testament to everything that preceded this paragraph.)

Launching a successful fashion business is exceedingly difficult work. To maintain and grow that business – all while staying relevant – is damn near impossible. If I’ve learned never to underestimate someone, that someone is Alexander Wang. After all, he’s a self-made empire, the embodiment of an (increasingly recurring) dream.