They were with that showroom for two seasons as they grew the line into cashmere sweater coats and sweater dresses. By spring 2007, Wang had launched his full ready-to-wear collection. “It was kind of like the first defining season that people really got a sense of ‘the girl’ ”—Wang’s girl. “Like oh, okay, this is her environment, this is how she puts all the pieces together, this is her attitude, this is her sensibility, this is her style.”
T he company is, by all accounts, and especially in light of the often fast-and-loose fashion-business standards, known for its methodicalness. The family “really knew about production,” an advantage Wang had over many other young designers, says Gilhart. “They knew what they were talking about; they were tough.”
Wang rolled out just the right shoes (all named after models, like the “Raquel”) and bags (named after TV characters, like the “Brenda”) to round out his one-stop model-off-duty proposition. Yes, there’s the collection, with its $1,200 dresses that Wintour finds reasonable, $745 slouchy pants, and those $870 Darcy patent-leather bags. But he uses the associative glamour of those riffs on ninetieswear to sell many more of his T line’s loose-fitting $74 tees. He thinks the different lines fit together seamlessly in one look—“That’s how our girl dresses,” he says. “She’s not wearing the full head-to-toe buttoned-up look. If she’s going to wear slacks or a pair of pants, she’s wearing something really thrown together on top”—and for many women, they probably do. But for others, the T line just offers perfectly proportioned basic pieces with a high-style name justifying their premium over, say, American Apparel’s versions. It’s also more or less how he dresses, except he wears sneakers.
By 2008, he was told by the CFDA/Vogue powers that be that he was ready to submit himself for the Fashion Fund Award. The process is arduous. “It’s not like the CFDA Awards, where you get nominated and just show up,” says Wang. “There’s a lot of tasks, there’s traveling, there’s different projects throughout the whole thing.” But Vogue only wants to bet on a worthy winner.
“I think we got really lucky in terms of timing,” Wang continues. “We could have been at a different point in our business where we weren’t ready to work with Diane Von Furstenberg and use her resources.”
Wang’s idea, as his friend the designer Joseph Altuzarra puts it, “existed before but wasn’t as well done: To create a well-designed product at an affordable price point with a luxury image. It’s an aspirational brand you can buy into. This is why some people are up in arms about it: ‘Oh, you know, it’s not expensive.’ But why not? It’s as produced and well designed as any other brand.”
In this way, Wang really is the future of fashion and luxury goods, looking across the Pacific, not to the fabled workshops of Europe. Wang remembers his mother telling him, when he was in the fourth grade, “China, it’s going to be it.”
Last fall, Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn wrote that he is “not a great designer” but is “clearly a shrewd guy. Unlike some of his dreamy peers, he decided at the outset to make affordable clothes.” To which Wang responds with some equanimity; she can have her opinion. But what gets him very exercised is an aside she made about his making his clothes in China. “I think people have this connotation with China as a negative thing, and it’s quite old-fashioned and quite ancient to think like that.” Though he says he’s making some shoes and knitwear in Italy this season.
N ow his girls, and his business, have to grow up and stop looking like they’re coming into work hung over every day. When Wang moved the company into this loft building over a sneaker and cap shop on Broadway south of Canal just three and a half years ago, it had half a floor. Soon, he says, he hopes to have four, saving them from sharing the one elevator with something called the Professional Business College. (“The elevator is like the death of me! The students don’t care if their hair gets in your face, if they step on your feet, squish you.”) Last fall, Wang’s company hired its first nonfamily executive as president, from Marc Jacobs. The Soho store opens February 17.
“Alexander isn’t just content with clothing New York or Los Angeles; he wants there to be Alexander Wang girls everywhere, from London to Sydney, Paris to Shanghai, and there are,” prophesies Anna Wintour. That’s a lot for a 27-year-old to handle, especially when everybody in fashion sees him out dancing till the wee hours all the time.