The Provocateur: Alexander Wang
By William Van Meter
The opening of his first store last spring capped off a mega year for the designer, whose SoHo flagship will soon be joined by a Shanghai location. He won the CFDA Accessories Designer of the Year Award and also snagged GQ's Best New Menswear Designer in America Award. Wang has achieved remarkable success by being as creative on the business side of his company as with design. His first (and only) ad campaign for T consisted of billboards and taxi ads in New York City and L.A., and starred notable DJ Diplo -- the only print ads ran in Interview magazine. The next season he projected films on Manhattan buildings for a weekend.
"From the very beginning," Wang says, "we've taken an organic approach, going with our instinct and trying things out. If things don't work, we try something else. Nothing falls into a formula. It's what makes sense at that time. Our business plan has never been more than one page."
Wang moved to New York City from California's Bay Area to attend Parsons, but dropped out during his sophomore year in 2004. "I had two years left, and then the pressure would be to find a job as an assistant designer and work my way up. That's how the industry goes," he says. "Or, I could take the opportunity to do something small and manageable, and if it doesn't work out, school is always there.”
The reasons for leaving school were also creative. "Everyone has a different way of learning," Wang says. "A lot of people love having the teacher tell them what to draw and paint and drape. That wasn't for me." It was a gamble, but, with Wang's innate design and business sense, it worked and he built a career by thinking outside the box.
He started his first knitwear collection with his sister-in-law handling the business side of things. They would put the oversized cardigans and knitted hoodies in a wheeled suitcase and go from store to store trying to sell their wares.
The influential N.Y.C. store Opening Ceremony was one of the first to carry his clothes. "It's a strong point of view, and it's his thing," says the co-owner Humberto Leon. "He's really good at cultivating his thing. In the beginning, it was more younger, insidery people buying it, but now it's reached a broader demographic."
Today, Wang's brother is the CPO of the company and his sister-in-law is the CEO. His mother serves on the board of directors. "I value working with my family," Wang says, "because I can trust them. They're always going to be there for me no matter how the business goes." At this point, the only direction has been up.