It’s possible to think that maybe he’s danced all this into being, these three pristine floors of smart-looking, BlackBerry-toting, black-clad girls, the mostly black clothes and shoes and bags hung on black metal racks along the walls, the Condé Nast mutual-appreciation pact, the several CFDA Awards now, the endless smitten nattering of the fashion blogs about him, the unseen factories in China that let him sell a designer product at lower prices. (Of course, this is all relative: When Anna Wintour was interviewed by 60 Minutes, she stopped by Wang’s showroom, where he showed her a $1,200 dress, which she declared “very reasonable.”)
He seems to know his customer—who she is, what she’ll pay, and, most important, who she wants to feel like she is. Or he is: Last spring, Wang launched a men’s T line, and he’s planning a men’s ready-to-wear line. This brings a whole other set of issues for a man who knows his girl so well. “A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, your aesthetic is quite androgynous, it would be so easy to transition into men’s,’ ” he says. But “I didn’t want my men’s line, or at least the ready-to-wear line, to be the same thing cut bigger, boxier, made for men. I thought that our man is someone that our girl is attracted to, she’s not attracted to someone that’s wearing the same exact clothes as her. So in that sense it’s almost a little bit more fantasy for me.”
To complicate things perhaps a bit, he admits that, with his unscruffy mien, he’s sometimes been mistaken for a woman. “That’s something I can’t help. Yeah, sometimes it’s embarrassing, but I laugh it off, and me and my friends will crack up about it,” he says. “I obviously have a small frame. I’m not super, you know, macho.”
Still, on February 10th, he won GQ’s Best New Menswear Designer Award (when he was presented the $50,000 check, he declared: “I feel like you guys have... popped my cherry!”). This is the sort of thing that happens to Wang. There’s a karmic frictionlessness about him.
His biggest problem is that he needs to be taken seriously while also being himself. His favorite movie is Clueless, but he’s not a Jane Austen fan. He’s not really into art. Like many of his generation, he’s never really had to hide being gay or, for that matter, elaborately sublimate it. “Yeah, there was no resistance; I didn’t have to do things under the counter or behind closed doors,” he says.
“Under a layer of doing things in a light way, he’s very serious,” says fashion-imagery vet Fabien Baron, who, along with Wang’s runway stylist, Karl Templer, created Wang’s first print ad campaign, which just came out. Baron and Templer, who is credited with giving Wang’s look a somewhat kinkier Parisian edge, also team up to run Interview magazine, where the ads will appear exclusively (as well as on billboards).
Wang is charming and genuine but wants what he wants. Von Furstenberg first noticed his sweaters when he was just out of Parsons and approached him. He flat-out told her, “No, I’m not interested in doing anything for you.” Or take a look at the Sundance Channel mini-documentary about his show a year ago, when he decides at the last minute to tear up the carpeting (it looked “really cheap—very department store, very fashion show … Sometimes what you think might be nice isn’t”) and declares that a velvet-and-chiffon dress should be restitched overnight, sending the woman who was his head of atelier at the time into an on-camera mini-meltdown in the elevator.
“I can’t even believe how much I have on my mind right now. It’s insane, I must have a million thoughts running through my mind,” Wang says. “But at the same time my life’s gotten so used to working like that, and training myself to deal with this many things, that if I didn’t have that—if that was all taken away from me, I wouldn’t even know what to do.”
M aybe his success, or at least his belief in his destiny, was just written in the stars. He says that when his mother found herself pregnant again at 40, she went to a fortune-teller to ask her what to do. She told her, Wang says, that “this is definitely something that you should go through with.” “She kind of basically laid it out that I was going to be the ‘one’ that was going to be very successful out of the children, and that my brother would end up working for me,” he says. Brother Dennis is 44, his head shaved bald, and chief principal officer of the family-owned concern; his sister-in-law, Aimie, is CEO. “And he—well, he doesn’t work for me, he works with me. Today and since the very beginning and up until now, he’s still part of the business, with my sister-in-law. So, yeah, thank God she decided to pull through, otherwise I would not be here today, so I have her to thank and the fortune-teller.” He might be peddling the fantasy of being a model off duty, but the reality has a good deal more to do with the Wang clan’s loyalty and commercial acumen. “No matter what happens, blood is thicker than water,” says Dennis. “We all believe in his vision, and being family gives us that much of a stronger foundation to build a business upon.”