Dozens of onlookers approached security personnel and black-clad staff with the same question: Would there be an after-party? But the answer, for one of the first times at a major Alexander Wang fashion show, was an emphatic no.
It was one of many changes for a brand that has remained remarkably and, at times, stubbornly consistent over the label’s 17-year existence. After a three-year hiatus, Alexander Wang returned to the runways Tuesday night with “Fortune City,” which the invite promised would be “a multi-layered event and parade celebrating Asian American culture, food, and music.” .
It took place at Chinatown Central Plaza in Los Angeles, in front of 800 attendees, including 500 members of the public who registered for a seat via a general admission link advertised on a billboard in Hollywood and on the social media of the label.
A separate entrance and time to shop at the Night Market was reserved for Wang’s VIP guests, including journalists and editors, and celebrities like designer Kimora Lee Simmons, K-pop star CL and model Behati Prinsloo Levine.
Far from the star-studded front row that made up his #WangSquad on previous shows, played in his campaigns, and partied with him on the weekends, this was a small group of friends who could withstand the backlash that comes with being swept away. being seen at an event hosted by a creator whose reputation has suffered since 2021, when allegations of sexual misconduct against him became public knowledge.
Early last year, 10 mostly anonymous men, represented by renowned victims’ rights lawyer Lisa Bloom, accused Wang of sexual assault at parties. Wang initially called the allegations “baseless and grotesquely false”, but later, according to a tweet from Bloom, he spoke directly to the accusers. Wang posted a public apology on Instagram and Bloom wrote on Twitter, “We acknowledge Mr. Wang’s apology and are moving forward.”
“I’m not just supporting Alex as a person and a friend, but he’s one hell of a designer,” said ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ singer and star Erika Jayne, who is also used to being in the spotlight. . for high profile charges. Rapper Maliibu Miitch said she doesn’t care about the allegations: “He was there for me when no one else even cared about my little Bronx self, so I’m going to support him. Anyway, I love Alex. Her heart is beautiful.
On the runway were more old friends, including Hanne Gaby Odiele, Soo Joo Park and Adriana Lima, whose pregnant belly was on display under a black web-like top. The clothes, too, were familiar: a continuation of the denim, leather and eveningwear that have always been the brand’s foundation.
The hems were short; the shoulders were pointed and square; and cut-out knit tops showed off great cleavage and more. Crystal bags, hidden under the arms and webbed by the models, looked like chandeliers stolen from a rowdy party. If you hadn’t paid attention to the derailments of the past two years, it might have seemed like just the status quo of the label.
But something had definitely happened. Requests to interview Wang were denied. Conspicuously absent was any mention of the word “party,” which was once central to the identity of Wang, his creative muse and the marketing superpower of the designer and his company — and what threatens to unravel a lucrative business.
The collection, on the contrary, seemed to be steeped in its Chinese heritage. Attendees received Alexander Wang-branded vouchers that they could spend at the stalls of local Chinese vendors who offered meat skewers, dragon’s beard candies and bingtanghulu (candied hawthorn fruit, which is said to have was a nostalgic hit with Chinese models behind the scenes). There were limited-edition t-shirts for sale, with all proceeds going to the Los Angeles Chinatown Corp., whose mission is to preserve and increase the value of Central Plaza.
The organization had helped identify suitable vendors, as well as a restoration project for Wang to fund: the dilapidated Wishing Well in the center of Chinatown that had been pockmarked by aggressive coin-throwers testing their luck and aimed for 85 years. The well, built in 1938, was repainted and renovated by Wang. (To get an idea of how much it might have cost, the Los Angeles Times noted, in 2003, that it would take $20,000 for a full restoration.)
For Bauer Wann, 30, who requested an invite on social media, the Chinatown aspect was a compelling draw. “If it wasn’t for supporting Chinatown, I would certainly be a lot more hesitant to be here,” he said.
Until recently, Wang’s identity as a Chinese American was rarely mentioned. He ignored attempts by journalists and critics to link his designs to his identity as the child of Taiwanese immigrants, even though he was frequently compared to Asian American peers like Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung, who have long describes their ethnic origins as relevant to their lives. design choice.
Even so, Wang’s background has been well documented. His parents are first-generation immigrants and ran a successful manufacturing business in San Francisco. His friends, as well as his clientele, were “It” girls, models, wealthy former boarding school kids, and the ethnically diverse and largely queer community of partygoers who wanted their clothes to express the simple fact that they were out. last night.
Wang’s laser focus paid off. Sales reached more than $100 million at one point, according to Business of Fashion.
But the brand began to lose relevance soon after. In 2019, Wang attempted a rebrand for the label that included a new logo and a commitment to telling his American story through the lens of a first-generation immigrant, which was inspired by what his parents did. had told him only recently about what it was like to come. in America in the 1970s.
“I had never asked them before,” Wang, who was 35 at the time, told The New York Times in 2018.
But among the Asian American participants, many attributed the late awareness to more personal reasons: “There were a lot of people in our community who didn’t want to associate themselves too much with the Asian experience,” May said. Lee, 56 years old. , who is involved with various local organizations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPIs, and attended the event to show support for Asian American designers. “Don’t make noise, don’t make waves, fit in.”
“I don’t want to blame Alexander Wang, but I think he’s an example of this type of Asian going through this type of experience,” she continued. “I say better late than never.”
Robert Andre Pei Johnson, 26, said: ‘It would have been difficult to do it before because people weren’t open to it before. Different times call for different exceptions. He couldn’t help it now.
Johnson’s friend Jonathan Muench, 30, who is half-Chinese, compared it to his own journey. “As I approach my thirties, I get closer to my culture,” he said. “It could be natural for him too.”
Without the ability to speak with Wang, it’s difficult to determine if or how the new collections he presented relate to his growing Chinese identity. Wang likely sees mainland China as a huge revenue opportunity, according to Business of Fashion, which reported that the sexual assault allegations had little impact on his brand’s perception there and he recently met Chinese investors.
But for more Asian Americans to see Wang as a true advocate and representative of their community, he will have to deal with the sudden about-face as well as the fallout from a $45 million lawsuit filed against him. in New York in 2012, in which 30 mostly Chinese former employees accused him of operating a sweatshop at his Chinatown garment factories. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, and neither party disclosed whether there was a financial settlement.
There have been small attempts, at least on social media, to give more context to Wang’s new embrace of his Chinese identity. Alexander Wang’s official Instagram account features calls to action to support AAPI-related causes, including a relief fund for a recent fire that killed two tenants and destroyed several small businesses in Chinatown. New York. It is unclear how the Wang company is connected to the non-profit organization Welcome to Chinatown, beyond drawing attention to its initiatives.
Privately, Wang appears to be approaching the job in a way that community advocates say is helpful. “We are really grateful that Alexander Wang has taken extra steps to work with Chinese merchants across language barriers, payment barriers,” said Shirley Zhang of the Los Angeles Chinatown Business Council, who worked with the company from way to organize the show. “They work so hard and the margins are so thin here in Chinatown.”
If Wang’s show felt both familiar — the clothes, in particular — and newly cautious (the lack of a sleazy after-party), that might be partly down to everything looming over her comeback, including his unusual mandate to market his personal journey. to move the product. He also has little leverage to make a mistake.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.