Alexander Wang - Why Balenciaga's New Top Designer Shuns The "Chinese" Label
Is the American-born Wang the Jeremy Lin of the fashion world?
BEIJING - So it’s Alexander Wang after all. The Chinese-American designer has been plucked to take over at Balenciaga as its new artistic director.
Speculation over the last month as to who would be designated by the French company was rife in fashion circles. Women’s Wear Daily claimed that it was going to be the British designer Christopher Kane, after which a long list of names were trotted out by a fervent press including Wang, Joseph Altuzarra, Mary Katrantzou and Pedro Lourenco.
As attention centered around these new names, all seemed to forget about Nicolas Ghesquiere, though it was thanks to him that the doddering brand made it back to the top of the fashion world. Just a few months ago, his Spring-Summer 2013 collection for Balenciaga was the talk of the trendy town. Alas, fashion is a very fickle world indeed.
The biggest concern now is what will Alexander Wang bring to this time-honored Parisian house? Is he going to be like Mark Jacobs who has succeeded in building both his own brand and that of Louis Vuitton? Who will benefit most from the reshuffle, himself or Balenciaga?
A recent post online captures Wang’s design style. In the post, Lindsay Lohan wears a white T-shirt, and readers are asked to guess which designer’s clothes the Hollywood bad girl is wearing.
The answer was given real fast, Alexander Wang. Why? A white shirt is the most basic design piece. Its details can be ever-changing or immutable. But the side pocket that Wang always adds on his white shirt is a sort of personal trademark.
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Fashion's new star, Alexander Wang - Photo: Ed Kavishe
Beyond excelling in this kind of fine processing on details, Wang is also very skilled in the way he treats cashmere. Since he launched his first ready-to-wear collection in New York in 2007, his model-off-duty-look concept has gained recognition. He is convinced that good clothes shouldn’t look good only on the cat-walk, but that they should also be suitable for daily wear.
Though an ethnic Chinese, Alexander Wang is what some refer to as a typical “Banana:” Asian on the outside, Western on the inside. He has Chinese physical features, but doesn’t speak Chinese. Born to Taiwanese-American parents in Los Angeles in 1983 he moved to New York when he was 18 years old to study fashion design at the Parsons New School for Design.
He dropped out in his sophomore year, but by then he had already worked an internship with Marc Jacob and Vogue Magazine and laid down a solid network of contacts in fashion circles.
Not only does Anna Wintour, the famous Vogue editor-in-chief, adore him, but Diane von Furstenberg, the President of the Association of American fashion, gave him mentor-like guidance. This fantastic human network and his own excellent design talent won him, in 2009, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award and, in 2010, the Most Potential Accessory Designer Award.
Just like Jeremy Lin who set off a publicity whirlwind at the NBA, now the Chinese fashion world is also jumping and cheering about an ethnic Chinese designer gaining worldwide recognition.
However, Wang isn’t really so keen on being identified as an “Ethnic Chinese designer.” When I interviewed him last May in Beijing at the opening of his second global flagship store, he felt that he had nothing to do with this concept of being Chinese. “We are doing this in English, right?” he asked anxiously before accepting the interview.
Wang certainly doesn’t hold the idea, like most Chinese designers, that “Chinese elements” ought to be put in the clothes he designs, nor does he adhere to “promoting traditional Chinese culture,” as so often claimed by Chinese designers.
When asked whether or not his ethnic background affects his design, Wang firmly denied it. He put it in a very smart and impeccable way: “ I have lived in New York for more than ten years, but I do not design for New Yorkers. I feel my clients are all world citizens. My design is broader and more sensual. We are a generation linked together through culture, music and experiences -- not background.”