Even if you’ve never worn his clothes, you probably know his name. Not only does fashion designer Alexander Wang dress the world’s top models, his name is casually dropped in rap songs, and celebrities like the Kardashians and Rihanna have helped make his brand part of pop culture.
And while representatives of his label declined to share financials, they noted that annual revenue exceeds the previously reported number of $150 million for 2016.
But fashion is, of course, a fickle industry, and Wang’s success over the past 15 years doesn’t guarantee the longevity of his brand. This is why his sights are now set on turning his label into the next iconic American designer brand, on par with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. To do that, he’s breaking industry rules and using the consumer as his guide, rather than the expectations of his peers.
“I don’t want to say that I want to bite the hand that feeds me, because I grew up in this industry and it was very supportive,” Wang said in an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success.”
The fashion industry has several gatekeepers of taste, including established media like Vogue and high-end retailers. Though Wang has benefited from strong relationships with these power players, he says the time has come to shift focus.
Andrew Kelly/ReutersWang hosted the first fashion show ever held at Rockefeller Center in New York. Invited guests watched along the runway, and the public could watch from above.Andrew Kelly/Reuters
“A lot of the organizations (and the editors and the buyers, of course) are very important to our business,” he said. “But yeah, at the end of the day, I think for everyone’s sake, it’s the consumer who is shopping at those stores, who’s reading those magazines. They’re the most important.”
He’s flouted the expectations of those in the fashion world in two primary ways: Skipping New York Fashion Week and holding fashion shows where no one else has before. This hasn’t always gone smoothly, but he’s decided that risking a couple mistakes is worth it for the long run.
New York Fashion Week dates back to 1943 and is one of four central events for the industry held around the world (the other Fashion Weeks are in Paris, Milan, and London). It’s a biannual event each February for fall-winter collections, and in September for spring-summer collections. Most top American designers will attend New York Fashion Week to network with fellow designers and the industry media assembled, but Wang decided in January 2018 that he could afford to do his own thing.
“I was confused about the seasonality, let alone a consumer who’s watching,” Wang said, referring to the non-intuitive way lines are debuted on the runway six months or so before hitting stores. “And also the fact that we have a global brand and that spring, summer, fall, winter doesn’t really resonate the same in New York as it does in Australia.”
Jonas Gustavsson/Getty ImagesWang’s 2017 fashion show in Brooklyn ran into some logistics problems with crowd control, but Wang said he used missteps as learnings for future shows.Jonas Gustavsson/Getty Images
Wang told us that his 2018 decision to leave Fashion Week developed over time, though seeds had sprouted earlier: In September 2017, he held his own shown in Brooklyn’s trendy Bushwick neighborhood. This forced those assembled in Manhattan for Fashion Week’s festivities to travel to the outer borough and compete with a horde of fans. And while Wang says that the celebrities and models who attended had a great party that night, the fashion show resulted in major traffic jams and a rush of public onlookers flowing past NYPD crowd barriers.
In our interview, Wang said that his first Brooklyn show in 2014 “was the biggest kind of drama” because it just wasn’t what people did during Fashion Week. But he’s continued to play by his own rules, and he says has learned from each experience. For example, yet another Brooklyn show he held last year went smoothly, compared to the others.
His latest show also went outside the conventional catwalk: He held it in May at Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center, the first fashion show ever held at the tourist-packed locale. That it wasn’t held during Fashion Week did not minimize the attention the spectacle received.
Going forward, Wang is considering ways to diversify his brand, whether it’s through more collaborations (like a recent one with Uniqlo) that make his brand accessible, or through entertainment that fans can interact with, whether at an open fashion show YouTube series he’s producing around himself and his label. He’s clear to state that it doesn’t matter as much to him what the fashion industry gatekeepers think of his decisions – in the end, it’s what his fans wants.
“If everyone is just sitting around with the status quo, then nothing’s ever going to change,” Wang said. “There’s always risks involved and I think we recognize that, and we stomach it and we go with it.”