Sunday, 13 April 2014

Zeitgeist: Waking up to Wang's news


Last night we all went to sleep dreaming of Coachella and why we weren't there...or was it just me? Anyway waking up on a sunny Sunday morning wasn't so bad and my Coachella blues soon turned into excitement following the big news: H&M x Alexander Wang. Via instagram. This November. I'm not going to waste time with all the details Twitter has already told you but I did re-hash an interesting piece I wrote some time ago now but never got round to publishing. 

America. Just saying the word brings forth a feeling of empowerment and the notion that somewhere across the pond lays a land of opportunity. Like many other people the world over, I too have always had an American dream and even today it is the dream that charges the business of US fashion. That said, America continues to need a revolutionary design hero/super brand each decade that can resonate with it’s vast population in a uniform way. The recent monopoly-like shifts in the fashion industry had me question whether the gifted Alexander Wang has unknowingly become a modern day Calvin Klein as the representative of the American Zeitgeist?

Calvin Klein, synonymous with American fashion is a brand that is as well recognised as Coca Cola, and even if you don’t like the drink, each year you await that fateful Christmas commercial marking the commencement of the festive season. As far as analogies go, think of Calvin Klein as the Coca Cola of fashion. Since the opening of the first ever store in New York City circa 1968, with ten thousand dollars, a dream and a childhood business partner, two Bronx natives began to form the mould that the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren would be destined to step in; a mould that would come to be the image of the United States.

Described as the ‘last great American fashion designer’ in Lisa Marsh’s controversial business biography, ‘House of Klein’, Klein the man and the brand are subjects of great controversy. If you don’t believe me then redirect yourself to some of the banned commercials of the nineties that resembled seedy porn castings. Despite this, the company’s prolific work in apparel not only changed the way American’s saw denim, but also reformed the way the US market perceived underwear forever. CK became iconic and a must have for everyone regardless of their class who could purchase anything from boxers through to fragrance and high end collection lines.

Fast forward half a century and you’ll find modern day’s answer to Klein, in the form of Wang at the helm of his own eponymous label that mirrors the downtown cool of a bustling Manhattan. The recent shifts in fashion, and there have been none that were more surprising than Nicolas Ghesquiere retiring from French power house Balenciaga to be replaced by Wang, caused me to think about the impact he has had thus far on American fashion in particular. Wang’s label launched in 2007, welcomed by uber cool hipsters and minimalist hungry adults, sits between the lines of refinement and imperfection giving many the ‘I just threw this on look’ in a successfully stylish way. Responsible for his model of duty look combined with nineties nostalgia, Wang has learnt a lot from his predecessors and it shows. Both labels, entirely different in their approach (namely we are yet to see the release of scandalous commercials from Wang), carry the same aesthetic of dressing America in the uniform way with clothes that are refined from every day staples such as jeans, knitwear, basic tees etc.

Since it imploded in the seventies, I can’t help but associate the Klein empire with true American style and the importance of the all-star designer. Note there are many others who followed suit, yet Klein has been able to find a way to consistently be finely tuned with the zeitgeist regardless of scandal. Moreover, the brand has had a strong hand in creating the success of many of its ambassadors. In 1992, a young and innocent Kate Moss was presented topless as part of a denim campaign that would go on to largely contribute to her international success – reiterating the power of advertising and branding once more. It is the exertion of this influence that allows brands such as CK to become household names that everyone wants a piece of, something I see in the pipeline for Wang given his increasing popularity.


With a penchant for minimalism and simplicity, Wang’s vivacious enthusiasm alone is the reason his will fill the shoes as another American design great. The difference with Wang’s more modern approach is the abandonment of overly sexualised imagery (we have all lusted after a Calvin Klein model at one point or another as a result) has been replaced with the idea that covering up in a slouchy way is much cooler (yes I still use that word). As minimalism and all American go hand in hand, both Klein and Wang are celebrated and noted for their clean lines that have become the doctrine of true American style. It won’t be long before the latest Brooke Shields of today will declare: “You know what comes between me and my Wang? Nothing”.

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