Alexander Wang remembers getting an e-mail from Diane von Furstenberg one evening this past January. “Can I call you right now?” the message read. It was 10 o’clock. He answered in the affirmative, naturally—who says no to DVF?—and a few minutes later, the phone rang in his apartment in New York’s East Village. “She was just making sure I was okay,” recalls Wang, fondly, of the nerve-racking moment. “She was like, ‘How are you, dear? Do you feel well? How’s your energy? Are you taking a vacation?’” That nighttime chat would be the first of many with the fashion icon, his business mentor via the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
Life hasn’t exactly been normal for Wang lately, at least not since he catapulted into fashion’s It arena. Back in 2005, when he launched his line, he wasn’t getting personal calls from any designer, top tier or otherwise. He also wasn’t the subject of much online panting—go ahead, Google him; he’ll pop up after other famous Alexanders: McQueen, Graham Bell, Hamilton and “the Great”—and didn’t have strangers approaching him for a quick photo op. If his name appeared in the press, it was often followed by the clarifying phrase “no relation to Vera.” He was just an upstart among upstarts, pulling his neophyte cashmere samples around to buyer appointments in a roll-away suitcase. And in those days he was scouring eBay for tickets to the CFDA awards. “I would have given anything to even just watch them,” Wang says.
This past June, Wang not only watched, he took home the CFDA Swarovski Award for emerging women’s wear designer. Onstage to accept the award, having paired his Helmut Lang blazer from high school with new Comme des Garçons shorts that barely grazed his knees, an ear-to-ear grin and tousled bed-head, Wang, 25, looked every inch the youthful schoolboy. The look belied the fact that Wang heads a small—$20 million—but serious business, which has successfully spawned shoes, bags and a secondary collection called T.
“Alex is both a designer and a merchant—he’s the perfect combination,” says Sarah Easley of the New York shop Kirna Zabête. “Often designers are known for something they’re fantastic at. Alex does every category well: dresses, evening, play clothes, work clothes, items, whole looks. Every category is polished and solid.” And Wang’s numbers speak for themselves. According to company figures, spring 2009 had an average sell-through of 60 percent, with his red-hot accessories accounting for 30 percent of his business. And for his spring 2009 footwear debut, the downtown store Opening Ceremony had a waiting list 900 names deep. “He is a star,” von Furstenberg conveys by e-mail. “Alex is a very unique one.”