The yet-to-be-officially-confirmed news of Alexander Wang’s appointment as creative director at Balenciaga has been met with mixed emotion by many fashion industry insiders and enthusiasts this week. While the die-hard ‘Wangophiles’–you know them: stud-bottom bag carrying, open-toe bootie rocking ‘Trainas in training’–couldn’t be more excited, skeptics have already begun to question whether or not Wang possesses the gravitas necessary to make him a success at his new gig.
Wang‘s trajectory (rivaled only by Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler and more recently, Joseph Altuzarra) has taken him from designing a capsule sweater collection in 2005, to being widely acknowledged as showing one of the most influential collections in New York by the Spring of 2009. He has also garnered acknowledgment from European editorial heavy-hitters, a tough feat indeed for New York-based designers.
Like a young Marc Jacobs (who also launched with a capsule collection of knitwear), Wang appeared built for the game: beloved by a new generation of edgy socialites, and associated with cooler-than-thou models-of-the-moment (remember the Wasson years?) he sealed the deal with his camera-ready mug…the boy has never met a lens that did not fall instantly in love with his feline eyes and canon of hipster haircuts.
The son of plastics manufactures, Wang was gifted a laser-sharp entrepreneurial instinct that initiated his T by Alexander Wang diffusion line far sooner than most would have advised. A break-out hit at retail, T single-handedly changed the diffusion business for designers.
Prior to Wang, the Calvins, Donnas, Ralphs, MKs, and MJs all felt it necessary to cement their clout at the ready-to-wear level before launching “bridge” lines. These diffusion lines, though touted as a means for a broader range of style conscious shoppers to buy into a brand, still remained cost prohibitive for many American consumers; therefore, the model’s third stage was to roll-out fragrance and/or underwear to ring registers at malls across the country…but in today’s market who had the time to wait?
Wang’s price-points for T hover at the $75-$125 mark making owning a piece of his brand at once accessible and aspirational for the young, hip and cool. His accessories soon began to pick up steam garnering “it” status right alongside far more established brands.
Truth be told, this was not solely Wang’s doing. Contemporary fashion has moved away from being about a designer draping into the wee hours of the morning in order to proclaim the new and the next. Fashion is now a team sport and Wang has been able to generate the revenue and buzz that attracted top-level talent to not only his design studio, but his public relations and sales teams as well. Nowadays building a brand is never a one man show–and Wang’s story is evidence of this.
It’s been rumored that Nicolas Ghesquière’s exit may have had something to do with the designer’s inconsistent commitment to commercial product and non-cooperative attitude toward sales and merchant teams. If that was the case, Wang may indeed be the best man for the job. And perhaps Wang’s appointment at Balenciaga will play to his less-obvious strengths too: His ability to seamlessly integrate both editorially compelling and commercially viable product within runway presentations, keen styling sensibilities (always in tune with what the coolest girls are wearing), and his knack for creating a client base that has as much street cred as it does celebrities (Santigold, Azealia Banks, and Die Antwoord have been ad campaign subjects.)
As far as the qualifications for the job of “celebrity designer” go, Wang has indisputably got the celebrity side covered. Like “the Oliviers” (Theyskens and Rousteing) and Tom Ford, Wang is one of the rare designers that acts as the best-cast models for their brands’ aesthetic. Pioneered by Yves Saint Laurent, studio-helms doubling as sex objects can often translate to dollar signs at retail with fashion consumers.
Whether or not you are sold on Wang‘s design chops, you can’t argue that the kid knows how to party. His legendary karaoke ragers are the stuff of 7th Avenue lore. And if he does indeed take the helm at Balenciaga (which c’mon, he definitely will), good luck getting your turn to scream “Call me Maybe” at his Soho boutique come September’s Fashion’s Night Out.