“The fun part is being able to evolve and challenge yourself,” he says. “If you get too comfortable, it’s not invigorating.... I’ve always remembered something Marc Jacobs said in an interview: As soon as people get used to what you’re doing, you have to change direction.” So far, Wang has managed to do just that while holding on to his signature street-chic MO. “Whether people get it one season or don’t, it’s always me, those same touches, feelings, nuances,” he says.
“His sensibility hasn’t changed,” says Victoria Traina, who has been friends with Wang since high school (San Francisco’s Drew School) and acted as his stylist in the early years. “When he started his own line, it made perfect sense to me. This is what he’s meant to do.”
By all accounts, Wang basically came out of the womb with catwalk dreams. “I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t into fashion,” says his brother Dennis, the company’s chief principal officer. (Dennis’s wife, Aimie, is chief executive officer.) “Maybe that summer of 1993 when he was really into Spider-Man and X-Men, and I think even that short-term fascination was due to the colorful costumes.” In fourth grade, for example, Wang created a papier-mâché shoe for art class. “I made a Versace slingback I had seen in a magazine,” he recalls. For added authenticity, he nabbed a Versace tag from one of his mom’s frocks and glued it onto the sole.
At age 15, he held his first fashion show—during Dennis’s wedding reception at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, complete with lighting and a runway. “It was a little risqué for a traditional wedding,” remembers Traina. “There were, like, half-naked girls in high heels.” Three years later, Wang would stage a similar catwalk presentation at his mother’s 60th-birthday celebration in Shanghai. He even went so far as to enlist models from a local agency.
“We have a joke that Alex runs on batteries, because he’s always working and thinking up different ideas,” says Michael King, a pal from Parsons The New School for Design. “Sometimes I’ll see him in the middle of dinner and he’ll pause and start drawing with his finger.”
Clearly, the guy is obsessed. “He’s so not jaded in any way,” says Easley. “When you say to him, I like this or that, it’s like no one has ever given him a compliment before, he’s so happy about it.”
In fact, despite the ultracool, street-smart attitude of his clothes—a look sometimes associated with counterculture angst—happy lies at the heart of Wang’s ethos, professional and otherwise. “This is fashion,” he says. “People should be having fun.”