Composite of images from the Alexander Wang X H&M marketing communication
By Raiment Young
Thanks to H&M’s live stream, I sat in front of my 10-year-old PC this morning to watch the presentation of Alexander Wang’s much anticipated collection, created with the Swedish clothier. I was not transfixed. Although sunlight had by then filtered through my study, what was on my screen was very dark and dreary. It’s known for a while that Mr Wang designs will be based on “sportswear”, so it was not surprising that the show was staged in a track-and-field facility, but the runway was sort of like an athletic meet for The Walking Dead, born out by the models strutting on the two-lane running track as barely-dressed, fashion-victim zombies.
The incorporeal demeanour was perhaps required to intensify the patina of black that cloaked the entire show. The collection itself was dripping with so much black that I wondered if Mr Wang was boycotting Pantone. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge consumer of black, particularly head-to-finger-to-toe black. So it took considerable effort to get past the inkiness to see what the clothes were about.
Yes, the clothes. They were seriously body-hugging, that I didn’t miss, and they showed lots of abdomen, that I noted too. Whatever Mr Wang will have us believe—they’re for “street, gym, and club” (likely in that order), I don’t see them worn in the fitness centre. In fact, I don’t see them worn anywhere except on the streets, en route to some YG Entertainment concert. These were attire that spoke a specific language and demanded immediate attention: look at me, look at my body, and look at how I move in these clothes. In American parlance, it was “ghetto fabulous”, enhanced by the location of the show, and the presence of 90s hip-hop stars such as Missy Elliot. I already see the hashtag: #FabInWang!
I am not sure if Mr Wang’s approach to sports clothes is really so new. Deprived of the over-the-top styling, I suspect the pieces worn without the attendant extras (oh, Kinesio tape!) would be hard to pull off with aplomb. Look at Rihanna when she previewed the collaboration a month ago! How lian, I had thought. I suspect, up-close, those constricted clothes would have nothing to shout about. Aesthetically, Mr Wang does not traverse territory not already explored by Yohji Yamamoto for Y3 or Dirk Bikkembergs. Yes, he makes them tighter and shorter—expectedly, hyper-sexualised, but he has not exactly set down a new silhouette that could make me relook the rags I wear in (not to) the gym. Who works out in boxy neoprene sweatshirts and leggings? Moreover, this fierce athleticism has already been covered by HBA, and, to a large extent, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. The sportif overtones, in fact, can be traced to black urban fashion that coincided with the rise of hardcore hip-hop of the previous decade, when bling and Adidas track suits were not odd bedfellows.
What Mr Wang is really giving those who will queue outside H&M, come 6 November, is his brand, and the relatively inexpensive way to buy into his brand. Designer name excess is back, and this aggressive Wang won’t be ignored. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to wear this four-letter word on my abdomen, on my calves, or, gasp, on my crotch! It was brought to my attention that Wang is a slang word for the male sexual organ (not to be confused with wank, which is an act!). Well, over here and throughout the Malay Peninsula, it means money in bahasa melayu. Fashion is often a broadcaster of one’s wealth, but do we really want to announce our prosperity on our sleeves?
Mr Wang has always been lauded for having a strong connection with what’s happening in street culture that centres on hip-hop and throbs through clubs that thumps with the music of the likes of Dr Dre. To me, his interest rather bears semblance to a Westerner’s weakness for Orientalist romanticism: the fascination is more in surface than heart. If Alexander Wang X H&M is the modern uniform for the street, er… count me out.
Alexander Wang X H&M will be available on 6 November at H&M, Grange Road