Colin McDowell is one of the most respected fashion commentators in the industry today; he has sat down with everyone from Anna Wintour to Donatella Versace. Dazed was at Selfridges recently, to witness McDowell interview his youngest ever interviewee, New York’s most hyped export, Alexander Wang. This year Wang was awarded the Emerging Talent Award by the CFDA, and has expanded to menswear by popular demand. His latest collection has been on everyone’s wish list, and he is still only 25.
Colin McDowell: So you were born in San Francisco?
Alexander Wang: Yes, born and raised in San Francisco, I went to boarding school between fifth and ninth grade, and in that time I managed to spend a semester in London at St Martins. This was before I had decided to move to New York and start my line there.
Colin McDowell: You started traveling at a very young age, you seem to have become a man of the world quite early on.
Alexander Wang: I did. I would go to Europe with my friends, I also spent a year in Shanghai when I was in fourth grade. Now I go there four or five times a year, and am very aware of our family heritage, the landscapes and architecture. I think I just had no fear of what I wanted to do, and just went out and tried to achieve it, there has never been anything that has kept me from what I wanted to do. I guess I have always been quite ambitious.
Colin McDowell: Is your family very fashion/design orientated?
Alexander Wang: No, not really. Our family background is more involved in manufacturing, not fashion. No one in our immediate family that I am aware of has worked in fashion. I think my inspiration was subconscious, like going shopping with my mum, and seeing my cousins go through ballet classes and all the costumes they had.
Colin McDowell: Were you always interested in fashion design?
Alexander Wang: When I was 18 I moved straight to New York and attended Parsons, and actually just before my first day I started an internship with Marc Jacobs, and I really didn’t know how fast things would move after moving to New York. So I took the internship and learnt as much as I could. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.
I did two years of the four year program at Parsons and decided I was going to take a leave of absence, so I put together a small knitwear collection and kind of loaded up a car full of samples and took them to a load of stores in L.A. I think it worked in our favor that there was never anyone telling us the right way to do things, everything was very organic. We were learning first hand how to take orders and ship deliveries as we went along.
Colin McDowell: You started with knitwear, how did the rest develop? Your shoes and handbags have taken the fashion industry by storm.
Alexander Wang: The reason I started with knitwear was because I saw there was a niche in the market, and because I wouldn’t have to worry that much about perfect tailoring so it seemed a good place to start, the first season we sold it ourselves, then the second season we took it to a trade show, and the response was phenomenal. I think we had 80 stores by the first day, and we were overwhelmed. But I felt that having just knitwear didn’t really get across what the brand represented enough, so then I decided I wanted to launch a full ready-to-wear collection. So we joined a different showroom and they launched it in 2007, I think that is when our line really took off, people just got it. The last two years have been incredible, it went from my brother, my sister-in-law, and me to 40 people with our studio in downtown New York, and everything is in-house now.
Colin McDowell: Who are the people that have inspired you?
Alexander Wang: I look at the people I grew up watching when I was at school in 1998, you can’t help but look at the careers of Marc Jacobs from where he started to where he is now, I think it’s more the careers I look at rather than how they have done it. Like someone like Martin Margiela who has never shown his face or done a single interview but was able to build a whole label.