New Slaves: Spending Everything on Alexander Wang

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2014 Getty Images/Courtesy

Alexander Wang has played the biggest penis joke in fashion history. The opportunity was too perfect to refuse — perhaps he was destined for it. On Nov. 6, Alex ander Wang launched his capsule collection for H&M, and frenzied fashionistas kicked and shoved — literally — for the chance to triumphantly wear gym clothes with “WANG” emblazoned over the chest. Not my personal idea of “classy.”

All sorts of fashion insiders have bought into the “WANG” craze. This fashion blogger is covered head-to-toe in “WANG.” Participating in H&M’s media campaign, Rihanna was caught in the streets with “WANG” written all over her crotch. She seems a bit embarrassed, if you ask me.

The absurdity doesn’t stop at this juvenile pun. Beyond literally breaking into fights, fashionistas crashed the H&M website within minutes, and some waited in line days ahead of time to grab some “WANG” merchandise. Some European shoppers walked out with $5,000 worth of the collection. What’s disconcerting is that these minor sartorial headlines have become an annual routine for these designer collaborations.

The collaboration has inevitably sparked its fair share of jokes. The weekend after the launch, I scrolled through UC Berkeley’s “Free & For Sale” and saw plenty of satirical jabs that equated to “how much for this ugly thing?”

To be fair, the oddly expensive collaboration does deserve some ridicule. $129 for basketball shorts? $299 for an oversized scuba parka? For an allegedly affordable, fast-fashion line, Wang’s H&M gear is more expensive than his actual “T by Alexander Wang” line when it’s on sale.

I’m with the jokesters here — it’s all a bit ludicrous. But we need to take a step back and consider what Alexander Wang is really up to. It’s no accident that the designer has written “WANG” all over his designs — a case of overbranding gone hilariously wrong. Alexander Wang is way more self-aware than we give him credit for.

Alexander Wang must know that people will buy practically anything as long as it has his name on it. He has been dubbed New York’s “prince of cool” by fashion publications, and his personal brand is so influential that he can make his 3-year-old cousin an Instagram sensation. Rappers — the definitive authorities on what’s cool in America — love to name-drop Alexander Wang. Just ask Jay-Z, Kanye or A$AP Rocky.

Alexander Wang wants to push his fans’ brand loyalty as far as it can go, selling some pretty ridiculous pieces. His collection is mired in paradoxes and sartorial jokes. For a gym-inspired collection, some of these outfits are laughably anti-functional.

Many of these pieces are made of the futuristic-looking neoprene, a highly synthetic material used for scuba suits. Wang transforms neoprene into sweatshirts and hoodies, but who wants to work out a sweat in a fabric that was invented to be unbreathable? And how about the leather sports jersey or the leather joggers. How can anyone wear those to the gym? There’s also a synthetic, sports bra-dress hybrid that is practically impossible to put on.

But no one is going to use these garments for their intended purpose anyway — who’s going to ruin their coveted Alexander Wang pieces with sweat?

So Alexander Wang has duped his brand-whore fans. These fans don’t care about practicality — they just want a tank top that screams, “THIS IS AN ALEXANDER WANG TANK TOP” in caps. That’s an actual shirt he’s selling, by the way. There’s even an extra-long, phallic “WANG” beanie. That’s a sartorial version of a dunce hat if there ever was one.

Out of all this ridiculousness, labeling each of his fans as a “WANG,” Alexander Wang emerges as a marketing genius. “The Fashion Law” — a fashion blog — has suggested that Alexander Wang’s collaboration might sully the luxury image of his own brand and Balenciaga. He’s given fast-fashion shoppers exactly what they want, but he’s protected his brand equity with incredible irony and jest. We all know Alexander Wang is jabbing at the frenzied consumerism of fast fashion, not embracing it. The irony of his H&M collection disconnects it from the authentic luxury of Balenciaga or his label Alexander Wang. If you want the real deal — the gorgeous, edgy and raw Alexander Wang — it can’t be this affordable.

A few days before the launch, H&M released a promotional video that expanded upon the thematic vision of the collection. The video is stylized after a first-person video game in which herculean models race through a dystopian, seedy underworld. At the end, a woman drives in on a neon-lit motorcycle reminiscent of Tron. It’s unsettling that these models, wearing Alexander Wang’s designs, are video game characters whose movements are controlled by someone else.

In “New Slaves,” Kanye West sneers, “Now everyone’s playing, spending everything on Alexander Wang.” If the promotional video says anything, I guess we’re the ones being played.

Jason Chen covers fashion. Contact him at [email protected].