Off kilter and thrown together, but in the most effortlessly chic way possible, New York designer Alexander Wang's collections are for 'cool girls' who prefer attitude over explicit sex-appeal. With loose tank-tops, jeans, and ripped and raw fabrics making up an intentionally sullied collection this season, Wang is outfitting the kind of girl who can roll out of bed wearing her boyfriend's wife-beaters and jeans and make it look like a fashion statement. For up-coming Spring/Summer, Wang envisaged Melanie Griffith's 'Working Girl' as a modern, powerful 'it girl', with a collection of 80s inspired oversized tailored jackets, simple tees, polished fine-wool dresses and mussed cut-off jeans. AW08 took its direction from a party girl gone wild – with a collection of elegant basics gone awry with rips, tears and 'beautiful flaws'. On a sunny New York morning in his expansive SoHo loft, Indigo Clarke caught up with Alexander Wang and talked collaborations with personal muse and fashion model Erin Wasson, the state of contemporary fashion and "living the dream".
Russh: Could you tell me about your AW08 collection – what inspired it and was there a concept or narrative?
Alexander Wang: For me in a general sense I always start with a basic idea – like a narrative for the collection. When I started I wanted to follow a core idea; to reinvent classics. The market was infiltrated with trends, but I believed that what people want is the perfect black blazer, simple dress or t-shirt. I wanted to do something very 'me' – I didn't want to impress, I just wanted to make what I thought girls looked cool in. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel, I'm about creating clothing girls will wear and look cool in. Each season has evolved naturally from this core idea. For Fall 08, the collection was inspired by a girl I imagined crashing a party, then ditching it and walking home at 4am, getting messed up as she steps in puddles and scales scaffolding. There are rips and tears across prints and also in fabrics throughout the collection – I really like this juxtaposition… taking a flaw and making it into something beautiful. So that's where the story for this season started, and then quickly one idea trickled into another until there was a cohesive collection. Each season I think about where my girl has been…
Russh: So you have a character you create clothing for – and each season is like a new chapter…
Alexander: Yes exactly, and she will grow up and develop and change, and so will my clothing.
Russh: Your aesthetic is really high-fashion made low-key, like daywear that can be worn at night – have you ever considered designing evening wear?
Alexander: A lot of people actually ask if I'll do evening wear, and that's really what I want to do next – I want to keep challenging myself. I hate the idea of red-carpet evening wear, this is not something I would ever try to create. I love girls looking cool – not perfect. I hate that look of the perfect hair, bag and make-up – contrived and controlled. I want to create evening wear that is relevant to my style and aesthetic.
Russh: Were there any pieces in your AW08 collection that you found particularly challenging to create, or that you liked the most?
Alexander: I have to admit I am always challenged by the feminine pieces – I'm naturally drawn to the aesthetic of a girl in her boyfriend's clothing. My favourite pieces are always the basic, simple pieces – like the boyfriend tank-tops. I started in knitwear, so I love the oversize kimono mohair cardigan. I like things that are a little more dumpy, sloppy and if you can wear it right they look very sexy.
Russh: Your SS08 collection clearly featured this oversized tailored aesthetic – very Melanie Griffith in 'Working Girl'…
Alexander: Yes, for SS08 I was thinking a lot about girls wearing their mum's outfits, it was really inspired by 80s womenswear which was all about power dressing. I wanted to create a collection that looked powerful but in an uncontrived cool, modern and laid-back way – to pair ripped-up dumpy jeans with a chic tailored jacket and for it to look effortless.
Russh: There was a lot of attention and hype surrounding this collection – did this come as a surprise or was it something you exected?
Alexander: It always comes as a surprise when people react so positively to what I have created because what I do is intuitive, it comes from inside so I never know how my designs will be received. It's so hard sometimes, you just have to trust yourself and go with your gut instincts to make your clothing your own way. You need to keep taking risks and translating your personality into the clothing.
Russh: Your AW08 collection was seen as somewhat rebellious – it was so different to what was happening on the catwalks this season. Is it a conscious decision for you to go against prevailing trends?
Alexander: No not at all, I never do things just to be a rebel. A lot of designers say they want to make girls look beautiful, feminine and strong, but I don't think you have to be so literal. I like to think outside the box, it's really all about the attitude the clothing projects. Each season I've been able to do so much more research into materials and prints, to create clothing that seems to have shocked people. I don't aim to shock people and turn them off – I want to shock to inspire. That's what fashion is really all about – to trigger ideas and make people think, to keep the craft moving forward.
Russh: How do you feel about contemporary fashion in general right now?
Alexander: I think there is so much going on right now, but something I've been noticing is that people are really wanting to conform and just do things that are easily accepted. What's exciting for me is to challenge myself and not take the prescribed route – and as a consumer as well I think it's really important to have your own voice and not necessarily follow trends. I feel like a lot of girls wear clothing that is almost a uniform – as though they are putting on what is expected to pick up guys or attract attention. It's so much sexier if you find your own voice and wear things in your own way.
Russh: Could you tell me about your connection to, and collaboration with, Erin Wasson?
Alexander: The thing about Erin is she's always been the girl that's inspired me. She's that girl that even though you've never heard her speak yu can tell she's the coolest girl in the world. She'll go to awards or gala ceremonies looking like she's just rolled out of bed and thrown on a gown, and somehow manages to look better than everyone else. I ran into her in NY years ago and introduced myself and asked if I could take a photo with her and she was so cool about it. About 18 months ago a friend introduced me to her and by chance she moved into the same building as me – not long after I told her that it would be the most natural thing for me to have her as my stylist. I wasn't looking for a stylist, but this came really naturally… it just happened so organically that we decided to do it for both SS08 and AW08. She's a cool girl that many girls can relate to, she's also very busy and just launched her own jewellery line, which we featured in the last show.
Russh: What impact does Erin have on your deisgns, aesthetic or the overall collection?
Alexander: The thing about us is we share so much, we finish each others sentences and we totally understand each others aesthetic. She comes in to look at my designs with a fresh eye, and she'll pair items in a way I wouldn't have thought of, but that is exactly right.
Russh: You've found your muse…
Alexander: Yes I guess I have… you could say Erin is my friend, an inspiration, a partner in crime, a confidante – I love her. We always talk about the way we cam together, it just couldn't have been any better or more natural.
Russh: Was fashion always your calling? Did you dream of being a designer when you were growing up?
Alexander: Definitely. It began with playing dress ups, and watching my mum and sisters getting dressed to go out. I grew up in San Francisco, I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer, but there was a reality to this dream as well. I knew I'd have to find my voice and personality and hold onto them because if you don't you can really get lost in this industry. Luckily it has all worked out, and I'm living my dream.
Russh: How did you get your start?
Alexander: I never actually worked for anyone – I did intern for Marc Jacobs and Derek Lamb at one point. When I started it was very scary and daunting, I really had to start from scratch. My label is now sold all over the world – I think the only country we're not in is Africa.
Russh: I heard that the Japanese label Uniqlo, which has launched in both the US and Europe, asked you to collaborate on a range for them?
Alexander: Yes, they just announced this actually, but I started working with them on it one year ago. It's going to be launched in May which is pretty exciting. The collaboration was so interesting for me because it's such a different world – Uniqlo is all about affordable clothing for everybody. It was so great to be able to make clothing that is still beautiful, but constructed out of $1 fabrics.
Russh: It must be pretty exciting when you see people out and about in your designs…
Alexander: That's really the cherry on top for me. When I see celebs or models in shoots in my clothing I know the history and reason for it, but when random people on the street are wearing my designs it means they bought it because they love it – and that means so much to me.
Russh: What keeps you motivated to create season to season? What can we expect to see for SS09?
Alexander: I think it's about not pushing myself to the limits, but to keep my life in the state it was before I entered this industry. I still want to find myself and challenge myself each season, I think it's good to be down to earth and know that there is always more to learn and more to achieve. My friends and the people around me constantly inspire me. As for now and the future, we have just launched handbags, which has been really big for us. Right now I'm preparing for next season… but the thoughts and ideas I'll have to keep close to my chest – I want next season to be a little bit of a surprise.