The thing that was ringing through my head when I tried on some of the Alexander Wang x H&M samples for funzies last week was an old Industrie magazine story that asked whether Alexander Wang could be the next Giorgio Armani – in other words, become an independently owned lifestyle brand that people know globally as a household name.
As I pulled myself taut into printed socks and body con dresses and got box fresh with a pair of AW-branded boxing gloves, the repetition of the Alexander Wang logo and typography on a lot of the pieces felt like an appropriate expression of how far Wang has come in nearly a decade of helming his own brand (2015 will mark AW’s ten year anniversary) and now steering Balenciaga. Wang”s collaboration with H&M wouldn’t have come as any surprise despite the guerilla announcement earlier this year at Coachella, precisely because his built up universe and brand is so ripe for collaboration. In my mind, unlike some of the pairings that H&M have come up with over the years (incidentally it’s also been ten years since H&M revolutionised high-low collaborations by working with Karl Lagerfeld), this one felt pitch perfect. Logos flying all over your chest, thighs and legs are both tongue in cheek references to youth-ridden logomania and yesteryear sportswear but also an assertion on Wang’s part that his brand had come of age.
Despite Wang’s ever expanding empire of collections – mainline, lingerie, T line – and of course, his work at Balenciaga, it seemed plausible that he’d carve out another niche for this particular collaboration. And so he went for performance wear, a category that hadn’t been explored in previous H&M collabs. At a press conference yesterday, moderated by Sally Singer of US Vogue, Wang was quick to emphasise why it was important to introduce something new as opposed to rehashing archival Wang. “How do we really excite the consumer again?,” said Wang. “What can we do? It was important for me not to just reintroduce kind of things I’ve done in the past but to really have a new mind and statement to what we were offering.” And it cleverly gives both H&M and Wang to express their chops at a sector of clothing that has grown exponentially in the past few years. “I felt it was a genre of clothing that wasn’t discriminatory by price point. It doesn’t matter if you’re a luxury customer, advance designer customer, everyone I know works out, is active, is running around. But I like the versatility of clothes if you’re going out, going dancing, you sweat as well, you need to move and be active.”
Obviously I’m not the ball-busting, boxer babe that Wang had in mind when designing the collection. However I did want to give it a go just to play at being a Wang-ite, if only for one night.
The performance aspect was something that Wang and the team at H&M took seriously. You can’t call it performance wear and for it not to have any substance. For instance qualities such as fabric breathability or waterproofing are tagged on to the pieces because they mean it. “When you’re saying something is waterproof, it has to be waterproof, it can’t be water‑resistant,” asserted Wang. “There’s so much technicality in how you word things. A lot of the pieces are also made in Italy where knitwear factories were employed to create stand out pieces like the viscose mesh knits and the logo-ed stretch pieces. It subverts the idea that you have to compromise on quality when you’re buying into these collabs. “When you do the quantities that H&M does, you can produce in Italy because they give you good prices for higher quantity, et cetera, et cetera. So the pieces were elevated,” explained Wang.
Neat tricks such as t-shirts with magically appearing graphics when you sweat and technical knits further the sort of techie fabrication angle that Wang has been getting into both at his own line and also at Balenciaga. “I’ve always had an infatuation with how performance and active wear is made. I felt like it’s the most advanced in terms of fabrication, in terms of make, the way things are welded, that knits are seamlessly knit. It’s a completely different fitting process, approval process as well. Things really have to perform. It’s not fashion clothes where it has to just look good, it really has to have functionality.”
Photograph from Billy Farrell Agency – wearing Meadham Kirchhoff coat with Louis Vuitton boots and Mansur Gavriel bag and looking distinctly prim for what would be a hi-energy sweaty affair inside a track and field coliseum up in Harlem.
The opening act of athelets who bounced up and down on trampolines and crawled the walls like ninjas
Of course the reality is that the majority of people buying the pieces probably won’t be seriously working out or doing 30k runs in these clothes. Wang hit the nail on the head when he himself admitted “I don’t do sports but I wear sportswear.” The collection is a culmination of the stylistic meeting point between sportswear and fashion. The fashion show with its sports core styling said as much. The girls might have been wielding hockey sticks and swinging boxing gloves whilst strapped up in lace-up baseball and American football gear but they were stylistic props to what was essentially a collection of badass sportswear-tinged clothes that people can easily layer up, make their own, and of course afford to get their Wang on (literally what with all the text). No doubt about it, they’ll be queuing up for the name and the “dopeness” of it all as opposed to the functionality come November 6th.
Wang’s inclusion of items such as boxing gloves, yoga mats and swimming goggles is on-theme but also on-message in the lifestyle aspect of Alexander Wang. They already create an Objects collection, which coats everyday items with a Wang-like sheen. These novelty (although they are fully functional) items are a natural extension of his objects and further re-iterates the potential of a future Alexander Wang that might have its own range of towels or bedding a la Ralph Lauren or indeed Giorgio Armani.
The H&M x Alexander Wang extravaganza last night was the important jigsaw puzzle piece to explaining why Wang goes far beyond just designing product and why this will probably be the main jewel of H&M’s collaboration crown. He is the sort of designer that is heavily involved in every aspect from ensuring that the bass line and grimy horns of a soundtrack throb in your brain long after a show, to creating bespoke boxing glove sponge fingers for people to root for Team Wang. That’s before we get to the actual clothes where extreme styling and spot-on casting convey more than just garments on a back – it’s that intangible attitude. The thing I’ve always found fascinating with Wang is, whether you dig his aesthetic or not, at the very least, you can’t NOT believe in it because of the pure dedication to what is a thorough vision. That’s what we got last night. An energetic assertion of the Wang’s brand values, heightened and amplified with H&M’s support.
As per every H&M collaboration launch event, following the show, we fashion peeps get all uncivilised and pushy in the pop-up shop where we can buy the collection three weeks before it hits stores. Well noted that the cut-out asymmetric crop tops with yellow edging and the spongey WANG neoprene sweatshirts were the hits of the night.
After sweating it out in the pop-up shop, we went over to the stage where the rumours that Missy Eliott were stormily swirling around, half-confirmed by the American press who had gotten the heads up beforehand. Sharaya J’s appearance confirmed it and for want of a better word, werked the AW X H&M pieces she was wearing. She emboded exactly what Wang was saying about the clothes really performing, whether you’re running on the streets or dancing in a club.
I reverted back to teenage me and was basically screaming like a gerbil for pretty much the whole time Missy Elliott was on stage. With my big DSLR, I somehow got mistaken as the pit media so I was right next to the stage, within touching distance of the great Missy. After telling us to put our phones down so that we could move (I did try to abstain but I couldn’t quite get rid of my social media itch), she broke out all the faves… Gossip Folk, Work It, Pass that Dutch, Get Ur Freak On. Not to gush or anything. Ok, actually I will because it was truly epic. A real deal legend performance that didn’t feel shoe-horned for effect at a fashion event. The synergy was even clearer when Wang himself got up on stage and was shaking his thing next to Missy.
I’m going to put forward one minor quibble. The inclusion of Andy Caroll in the ad campaign. Forgetting the fact that I’m an Arsenal fan with biased opinions on players, H&M and Wang could have picked a better footballer who’s equally easy on the eye. It’s still mega LOLZ to see an English Premier League footballer being part of the print and TV campaign lineup that includes Isabeli Fontana, Raquel Zimmermann and Joan Smalls. Speaking of which, we got a sneak preview of the slick TV campaign, which resembled a trailer for a 21st century espionage film. When the TV spots start rolling at the end of this month, it will only build up the anticipation of what will probably be one of H&M’s most successful collaborations to date. Who’s lining up come November 6th? Why, the many many folks out there that wear sportswear but don’t do sports of course…