Alexander Wang: Too cool for school

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

At just 25, New York-based Alexander Wang is one of the hippest designers around. Carola Long hears how his take on the 'off-duty model' look has become a cult sensation

While some designers look to the past or future, Alexander Wang is as right here, right now as it gets. The American designer is zeitgeisty, he's of the moment and in fashion-speak he's also having a moment; quite an extended one to judge by his growing popularity.

Wang's aesthetic has a metropolitan immediacy to it, a throw-it-on, wear-it-now look that caters to the urgency of his New York customers and reflects the rushed style of models between shows. Typically, it was the 25-year-old wunderkind himself who came up with the expression that sums up both his signature and the urban uniform of the late noughties; the "model off-duty" look synonymous with skinny jeans, long T-shirts, biker jackets and ankle boots. When I meet Wang at his new space on Selfridges' 3rd Central floor – his first dedicated area in Europe – which is complete with metal and shaggy wool chairs from his old apartment, the amiable, sweatshirt-clad designer explains what he meant by the term. "It's this very dishevelled look that I was known for from earlier shows," he says, "but it goes deeper than that. I was thinking about how this high-low mix came about, and I felt that it originated from girls backstage." Unlike women who buy just high end or high street clothes, Wang evokes, "a model who runs around in jeans, but then she's introduced to Karl Lagerfeld and he gives her a Chanel jacket that she throws on. It's this idea that everything is the same, treated in a very equal way without rules."

It didn't exactly hurt Wang's dizzyingly fast trajectory from leaving his degree at Parsons The New School for Design two years early to becoming a highlight of New York Fashion Week, (Roisin Murphy, Diane von Furstenberg, Philip Green, SJP and Anna Wintour were all at his a/w 09 show) that he had an off-duty model on hand to epitomise his customer. Or at least who his customer wants to be. Wang met the Texan model/self-styled free spirit Erin Wasson when she moved into his old building two years ago. He says: "It was my first show, the clothes were there and she was trying them on and I was like, you should help me style the collection, so we did that for two seasons. Working together was really fun. She doesn't still do my styling but she is a good close friend."

Wasson's breezy, "like whatever" vibe helped confirm that Wang was cool, and that elusive quality rapidly translated into credibility and commercial success. Wang, his brother, who previously had a legal career, and his sister-in-law, officially started the family business in late 2004 and have no outside investors. A small knitwear line came out in early 2005 and the family "put it in a suitcase and took it door to door trying to spread the word". However, it was in 2007 when they launched the ready-to-wear line that Wang, "really felt like the brand came together with the idea of our girl and what we are trying to say". Since then the label has grown to include shoes, accessories, handbags, a T-shirt line, menswear, and sunglasses, and Wang has also collaborated with Uniqlo and Gap.

Wang might be very young for such success, but he was clearly ambitious, independent and focused on fashion from a young age. Growing up in San Francisco, with Chinese-American family heritage, he taught himself to sew in his early teens after his mum bought him a sewing machine. He staged his first fashion show aged 15 at his brother's wedding. "It was like 35 looks or something. We hired hair and make-up and everything," he recalls in his New York hipster drawl. He did a course at Central Saint Martins College, "just after 8th grade so I was about 15", and when he finished high school at 18 he moved to New York to study at Parsons for two years before dropping out to start his business. He says: "It wasn't pre-planned. I thought I would attend school and get an assistant position and work my way up but being in NY and seeing the pace of everything, is very inspiring."

In 2008 Wang won a prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award, and alongside previous winners and runners-up in the scheme such as Proenza Schouler, Phillip Lim, Thakoon, Derek Lam and Rodarte he is seen as one of the fresh new designers putting the energy back into what had become a staid scene at New York Fashion Week. As Selfridges buyer Ros Leach says: "There's no denying Alex has been a key factor in its renaissance." Wang muses: "I don't think fashion week will go back to what it used to be because people are realising that the industry is completely changing. It's not just in Bryant Park any more, people are figuring out who their audience is, where they want to show, they aren't really playing by the rules. It's not so much about these editors, these buyers. These designers. There are a million different stores, and different voices now."

Wang might be part of the new guard of American designers, with an ultra-contemporary look, but he's still inspired by traditional American motifs such as sportswear and the idea of classics. For the spring/summer 2010 show Wang was, "thinking about American heritage and sportswear, parkas, camping, growing up in America, college dorm rooms, that idea of the Bruce Weber girl". Of course with Wang the look came with an ultra-modern, slightly grungy, offbeat, pop culture twist courtesy of the prissy girls in the film Clueless. "I thought, how do we see it differently now, how can we make it relevant now?" he says.

It didn't take the high street long to cotton on to the fact that Wang's brand of relevance or hip wearability is what its customers want now, and a glance around the likes of H&M, Topshop and Zara reveals plenty of Wang-alike long T-shirts, tailored gilets, sleeveless leather or denim jackets and grey tracksuit trousers – as seen in his s/s 09 show. The designer seems fairly unconcerned about the plethora of homages, however, saying: "If someone realises the piece they are wearing is inspired by me then it only broadens my audience."

Anyway, Wang is on mingling terms with one high street titan – Sir Philip Green – they met at a Topshop party in New York. "Very charming, he likes to have a good time" was Wang's verdict. He's also met Anna Wintour ("she's amazing, definitely someone who knows what she wants and she does a great job") but the person he was most thrilled to meet was Kate Moss. "I went with her to Miami for a shoot with Daria Werbowy and Lara Stone and Kate took us out to these dive bars, she was like our tour guide, she's the most down-to-earth fun ever." What time did the night end? "I don't know if it ended, it kept going and going." Rather like Wang's status as New York's hottest young designer.

Alexander Wang is available on the 3rd Central floor, Selfridges London; 0800 123 400

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape