Alexander Wang

Topics: LVMH, PPR, Gucci Pages: 6 (1632 words) Published: February 11, 2014
An American in Paris, Again - Alexander Wang at Balenciaga - NYTime...

December 7, 2012

An American in Paris, Again

ALEXANDER WANG may be the savviest designer of his generation. At 28, he is the rising star who built a global multimillion-dollar business in less than a decade, opened his own stores in New York and Beijing and, last week, landed a plum job at a prestigious label in Paris, when he was named the creative director of Balenciaga. Some see Mr. Wang’s appointment as symbolic of the triumph of youth; others see the demise of fashion. “It was a coup for Alex, and a coup for American fashion,” said Diane von Furstenberg. But, she added, “he’s going to need some mentoring in Paris.”

In a way, it is fitting that Mr. Wang should become the first American designer to take on a big, historic European design house since Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Narciso Rodriguez went to Paris in the late 1990s. (Only Mr. Jacobs, with his role at Louis Vuitton, remains there.) While other young designers have occasionally been proposed for such lofty jobs, it is Mr. Wang who most perfectly represents his generation’s more accessible and business-minded approach to fashion. He also reflects the growing prominence of designers of Asian descent who are making their mark on the global stage.

He is young, energetic, engaged, streetwise and generally adorable. And like all great (meaning successful) designers, he recognized a crucial shift in the market well before its impact had been fully realized, in this case how the democratization of fashion would also lead to a gradual devaluation of the concept of luxury. He created a business with estimated sales of more than $60 million by making contemporary T-shirts, sweatshirts and shorts that look remarkably like high fashion. (His company does not release numbers.) Early in his career, when critics said he was too commercial, Mr. Wang said: “I don’t see that as a negative thing. It is something I actually enjoy.” But it is for the same reasons that his appointment at Balenciaga — nearly a century-old fashion house that was thoroughly modernized over the last 15 years under the considered eye of Nicolas Ghesquière — bothers so many people, or at least the fashion purists. Some established designers, grumbling privately because they did not want to be seen as meanies, see the change as symbolic of a broader watering-down of creativity in fashion.

“They’re not fashion designers,” one New York designer said. “They’re fashion curators. They’re sitting at a computer copying other peoples’ ideas.” Even on Balenciaga’s Facebook page, alongside the many positive comments about Mr. Wang, one fan sniped, with Ghesquière gone, “who will

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An American in Paris, Again - Alexander Wang at Balenciaga - NYTime...

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Wang rip-off now?”
Their fear is that PPR, the luxury group that owns Balenciaga, as well as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, plans to take the label in a more commercial direction, or that the choice of Mr. Wang, as an Asian-American, was somehow an opportunistic play for the emerging luxury market in China.

Mr. Wang’s command of the Chinese market and his fluency in Mandarin were not overlooked by executives at Balenciaga, but François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of PPR, said that they were not considered criteria for his recruitment. He nevertheless described Mr. Wang’s heritage as “an extra value,” noting that he will bring more exposure to the brand worldwide. Responding to the question of handing the keys to one of the most famous names in fashion to a designer so young, Mr. Pinault argued that, when Mr. Ghesquière began designing Balenciaga in the mid-1990s, “he was designing uniforms for Air France, and who would have said that Nicolas would become such...
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