Interview: Alexander Wang Talks to Viva
Born and raised in San Francisco, Alexander Wang, 30, moved to New York in 2005 to study fashion at Parsons School of Design, but left after two years to start his own label.
His effortlessly cool take on urban androgyny quickly won him an army of fashionable fans and international awards, making the Alexander Wang show a major highlight of New York Fashion Week. With three stand-alone flagship stores, the Alexander Wang label, which now spans womenswear, menswear, accessories and objects, is stocked at leading department stores and boutiques worldwide. In 2012, Wang landed one of the most coveted jobs in fashion – creative director of fabled French fashion house Balenciaga – for which he showed his first collection to great acclaim in February 2013.
Today he splits his time between his eponymous label’s New York home and Balenciaga’s Paris atelier.
My interest in design started young I attended boarding school between 5th and 12th grades and magazines were my outlet to the outside world during that time.
When I was growing up my mother instilled in me not to be afraid of taking risks. I had a lot of different interests when I was young, from singing and dancing to cooking, and she allowed me to experience and explore what I loved. When I was 21, she told me to leave school if I felt very strongly about starting my own business. She challenged me, but she was always there to support me.
I’ve had so many stumbles that haven’t been seen in public, but the most important thing I’ve learned is to let go and move on. The fashion industry is constantly moving forward and you have to be able to move with it. If you dwell on things and let them hold you back, it can become a handicap.
This is not a one-man show I depend on a lot of incredibly talented and motivating people to keep the process going and to inspire me.
Doing what you love is really one of the best things you can ask for. To wake up with that drive, to be so excited that the first thing that you do when you open your eyes is to check your emails. That’s quite rare.
Fashion is a very tricky, fickle industry, so I’m really proud of the friendships that I have made along the way. Building and maintaining relationships is one of the hardest things, but for the balance of my private life, it’s really necessary for me.
There are a lot of other designers I admire and respect if I was to have to pinpoint one I would have to say James Jebbia, the founder of Supreme. He’s created such an incredible brand, and he knows his audience so well. There’s so much integrity and conviction to what he does and the world that he creates.
If you want to succeed in fashion don’t be afraid to tell your story in your own way. This industry wants you to fit into a mould or a certain idea of a personality. You have to not be afraid to create your own path.
When I set up my own brand I felt I could always go back to school, but taking on my role at Balenciaga was a huge risk. I knew it would affect my own business, my employees, my schedule, my timing, my capacity, my creativity.
The two brands are vastly different in terms of their origins with Balenciaga there’s a heritage and codes that have been established before me, but Alexander Wang didn’t have a history before me. That said, how I approach the creative process is quite similar. I rarely have one idea and stick to it for six months. I’m always absorbing and filtering as I go.
Working on my first fragrance, B. Balenciaga, was a new challenge for me and a very emotional process. It was one of the first projects we started talking about when I joined Balenciaga, and it took a year and a half – I can’t tell you how many rounds of working with different scents – it’s very scientific. The result is based on a personal journey of finding something that was feminine and sensual, but still had a certain masculinity.
Juggling my two roles makes clarity and decisiveness the most important things. So many people depend on me, I have to be confident in knowing what I want. Even when you don’t know exactly, you have to go with an idea, and not look back.