Who would have thought that women the world over would be falling over themselves, queuing around blocks and scrambling over one another, to get their hands on designer sportswear? But, that’s what went down across the world’s high streets on November 6, when Alexander Wang unleashes his affordable urban uniform to the world. Famed for pushing the boundaries, high street hero H&M has enlisted him for their latest, annual, designer collab collection.
Until recently, you’d be forgiven for not having heard of this 31-year-old designer. Born to Taiwanese parents in the city of cool that is San Francisco, Wang began sketching clothes from the age of six. Success came instantly and easily. Peddling his own brand of sporty-luxe, he launched his first collection in 2007 to huge fash-pack acclaim. These were clothes with a good-time feel, with a polished, androgynous aesthetic that tapped into the underground urban movement in the late noughties.
Wang’s innate sense of what the modern woman and man wants to wear has taken the label from downtown to global player in just seven years. It’s like he’s high-wired to who they are: style- savvy yet not style-obsessed; grown-up but youthful; in shape yet real. His tomboy cool aesthetic is favoured by an A-list clientele and a band of New York grungy socialites, plus good-time friends like Alice Dellal, Erin Wasson and Zoe Kravitz.
By building a global reputation for doing things his way, at the age of 28, he made a big enough noise in the industry to be crowned creative director of one of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses, Balenciaga. A diffusion line called T by Alexander Wang quickly followed, then a men’s collection, and now he has over 700 stockists globally.
When we meet, Wang is in a bright and buoyant mood, with an infectious energy that literally electrifies the air. I observe three things about him: first, just how fresh- faced and cute he really is in the flesh (he could pass as a teenager); second is his halo of silky black hair, which gave me hair envy; and lastly, that he is the very opposite of a tough fashion mogul – friendly, spritely and, well, normal. “My friends tell me I need to relax and stay still, but it’s very hard for me to switch off,” he laughs.
This guy is busy disproving the rule that you can’t be all things to all people. “It doesn’t matter what project I’m working on,” Wang explains, “each has their own challenges. I think of the clientele, their expectations; being able to play on different spectrums of the industry keeps me going, and it’s the passion – when you are so excited and you’re passionate about what you do, you just go with it, whatever the project.”
Despite his fame and experience, it’s pretty clear that he’s genuinely buzzed and proud of this new purse-friendly collection. “I like the idea of taking a risk, pushing the boundaries and taking on new challenges; that’s always been part of my nature. Fashion is an ever-evolving industry, after all, and I have to adapt to change.”
The collection, for men and women, is clearly influenced by his own diffusion line, T by Alexander Wang, which is slightly more relaxed than his main collection, full of sports- inspired basics for urban hipsters (think slouchy, clingy and short). For H&M, there’s scuba coats and hoodies; a voluminous, and crop- top sweatshirt; kooky accessories like boxing gloves, a referee whistle, even a branded yoga mat; and Wang- branded painted-on tights.
Pop queen Rihanna was the first to wear a few select pieces from the collection, sparking much commentary on social media and adding to the hype of the much-anticipated retail drop. The beauty of this collection is that Wang has managed to make gym gear and sweats look luxe; these pieces are throw- on wearable, infinitely wantable, and a good bit cheaper, too.
“Sports and activewear has always been something I’ve been really inspired by. Naturally, the comfort and the ease of it, but also the fabrications and the way sportswear is made is so advanced, I feel fashion is only catching up to experiencing that, in using the different kinds of machinery and different developments in terms of textiles.”
Fashion has been moving in this lifestyle direction for a while now. You only have to look around to see that performance wear and performance fashion is now a thing. With Stella McCartney for Adidas pioneering the movement, there’s now a sister active wear site of Net-a-Porter (aptly named Net-a-Sporter.com); designer sports collabs aplenty; and trainers have now taken over from heels in the style stakes. Lifestyles are changing too.
Now, how we dress reflects our healthy life balance. The horror to think only a decade ago, the bandage dress set the tone for an entire generation of women, who starved themselves to squeeze into one bad bandage after another. The look today is less starvation, more muscle definition; less skinny, more healthy. We want clothes to work out in, to take us from home to office in comfort, from bike-to-bus-to-desk. And that’s the magic of Wang. “The same amount of attention to detail and thought about what each item represents in someone’s lifestyle is given to all my brands. I see the customer coming to H&M and still buying pieces for working out, and going out, and the clothes still having the same integrity as the main line or the Balenciaga collections.”
What a way for the world to experience a designer brand and lifestyle. These pieces will work again, and again, and then some. So, mark your calendars, set your phone reminders – this year’s H&M designer collab will make you want to get in on the action, too.
Image by Steven Klein.
Sive O’Brien @SiveOB