Alexander Wang’s Romantic Return to New York

NEW YORK — Alexander Wang’s first show in New York since 2019 was a three-in-one affair, combining collections for women’s pre-fall, fall, and a newly-relaunched menswear line.

Themed “Cupid’s door,” the brand’s return to a regular show schedule in New York also marked another step in the designer’s American comeback after sexual assault allegations in late 2019 left his brand tarnished in his home market.

In the years since, Wang has revved up his business in China, taking on new Chinese investors and opening stores at a rapid pace in the country. He’s taken a more deliberate approach to reviving his US business, dressing a handful of celebrities at the Met Gala and other high-profile events (and providing the wardrobe for viral images of a pregnant Rihanna and a post-Ye Julia Fox, who reappeared to close out Wednesday’s show.) He staged a runway show in Los Angeles in April 2022, his boldest effort to that point to re-energise US sales.

Like that show, Wednesday’s affair was designed to appeal to both American and Chinese audiences. The brand took over the former Jing Fong restaurant space, a New York City dim sum institution. Wang has been vocal about the uptick in Asian hate, and lately has been using his platform to highlight Chinatown businesses. His own office operates just around the corner from the venue.

Models walked along a double-heart shaped runway with zebra print flooring and framed with pink velvet drapes. The collection was inspired by romance and had strong boudoir elements, and contrasted the ultra feminine and frilly with masculine looks that saw loose ties draped over open suit jackets.

The clothes also featured plenty of pink and red, which conveniently does double duty for the two holidays — Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day — the collection debuted between.

“We’ve really expanded our business in China and really the demand came from there. They wanted to see more mens,” Wang said backstage after the show about the relaunch.

The Chinese male shopper, and in Asia at large which is heavily influenced by K-pop boy bands, is generally more fashion forward and comfortable with traditionally feminine traits. Reentering the category is also likely to play well with Gen-Z, which has evolved a more fluid approach to gender than Wang’s own Millennial generation.

“The man is still the same but … there’s a new proportion of [menswear] we haven’t necessarily played that has a bit more sensuality to the cut,” Wang said. “It’s a little closer to the body in some areas, a little oversized in others.”

China has proven critical to Wang’s business since the accusations. He has taken on two Chinese investors, the fashion conglomerate Youngor Group and venture capital firm Challenjers Capital, and has averaged one store opening in the country per month, bringing the brand’s total for greater China to 18. Six more are on the way in that region for the coming year.

Although the Chinese luxury market shrunk 10 percent in last year amid rolling lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19, with borders reopened, brands are anticipating a quick rebound in Chinese spending. There’s a flurry of activity in the West too with new stores opened in Toronto, Miami, South Coast Plaza in California’s Orange County.

While Wang built his brand on the downtown party-boy sensibility, it had started to feel dated even before he faced multiple accusations of groping and other unwanted advances. The designer met with his accusers and publicly apologised, clearing the way for his return.

He’s since toned down his signature clubwear looks and about a year ago expanded into bodywear — a range of lounge and underwear.

“We’ve always done it through collaborations through Uniqlo, H&M and Adidas, but to really launch that in house and to explore what that looks like with a new customer and accessibility and bring it into the world with a fully bedazzled jacket is what I love,” Wang said.

His twin pivots, to China and to a new aesthetic, are paying off: Wang said the business reached north of $200 million in sales last year.

He isn’t backing down completely from sex appeal, however. For his bodywear line launch, the brand filmed models squirting ketchup over a hotdog and presented the Vortex sneaker on a tablecloth made of shiny red and black latex.

And at least one male model at Wednesday’s show sauntered down the runway shirtless, with sweatpants hanging precariously low below the hips.

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