Battle Of The Bulge

Who showed off their pregnant body better? And is Alexander Wang cornering the market for sexed-up maternity wear?

Adriana Lima (left) on the recent Alexander Wang runway and Rihanna (right) in Alexander Wang on a night out in Santa Monica, in March. Photos: Alexander Wang and Backgrid respectively

The message these (still) pandemic days is clear: Show your face and, if you are pregnant, bare your belly. As the world witnesses, Rihanna is leading the way. Since announcing her pregnancy on social media in January, the Fenty mogul has been ramping it up on the fashion front, each outfit she shares online, more revealing—her baby bump more prominent—than the last. Now it seems that the ex-Victoria’s Secret Angel Adriana Lima, too, is following in the singer’s footsteps. At the Alexander Wang autumn/winter 2022 show, the five-month pregnant Ms Lima was outfitted in a dress with a large circular cutout, deliberately positioned to frame the stomach, as if to place the belly in an inset.

This is, of course, not the first time that Mr Wang has created skimpy maternity wear. Last month, the much-followed Rihanna appeared in a bespoke look that was attributed to the designer. It comprised of a sparkly, barely-there brassiere worn under an oversized leather jacket that was paired with a matching, very abbreviated skirt. The outfit, naturally, divided the world, whether among those fashion-bent or not. Highsnobiety weighed in with the headline: “I love Rihanna, but not her Alexander Wang maternity outfit”. It should be noted that the writer behind the the opinion piece did not dislike the outfit as much as the name that custom-made it for the star. Mr Wang had then still yet to entirely shake-off the scandal that beset him almost three years ago. Rihanna’s choice, therefore, held “complicated implications”.

The fashion press has called RiRi’s very public display of her stomach a “master class” in alternative maternity wear. And now that Mr Wang has sent out on his recent runway, a similar look to his choice for the Barbadian mother-to-be, is it indication that he will be the go-to designer for outfits that show off a pregnant bulge that some women now prefer to flaunt, uncovered? The two outfits we have seen so far are less (literally, too) maternity clothes than near-negligees that are worn to accommodate a pregnant woman’s changing body. Amid the boob-baring that other American labels are into, perhaps Mr Wang has found a new category of maternity wear, one that, similarly, uses less fabric than more. Would this, aided by his exhibitionistic expecting supporters, be what he needs to help his career recover—bare-skinned baby bump?

The Skin Show

After being accused of sexual assault in 2019, Alexander Wang makes a tacky comeback with a late, autumn/winter 2022 show

When you look at the Alexander Wang clothes now, it would be hard to connect them to his two-year stint at Balenciaga. Or, remember that he was once there. Mr Wang’s designs for his eponymous label have never truly left the parameters of streetwear and partywear. And he is taking them to no wear—clothes that are barely there, between those that hip-hop artistes need when they want to show their panties on the red carpet or their under-boobs for racier-and-racier music videos and those that actresses choose for revenge-dressing after breaking up with a high-profile boyfriend. He knows what his customers want, we have often been told. He still does, undoubtedly. But why does a designer, blamed for sexual assault (to which he initially denied, then apologised, and then privately met the accusers), return with a collection that places sex squarely in its heart, with the kind of clothes that would prompt his haters to say that the skimpy outfits encourage the behaviours that he was accused of?

Many supportive celebrities (of course, friend of the house, K-rapper CL, was there)—as well as his rabid fans—seemed unconcerned with his predatory past; they were out giving him the thumbs up for his cheesy “Fortune City”—his make-belief emporium of party-on fabulousness. Alexander Wang made a “comeback”, not in his home city of New York, but in Los Angeles, specifically in LA’s gaudy Chinatown, with neon lights for store names and for outlining the kitschy architecture of what is typical of Chinese buildings. It was earlier reported in the American media that Mr Wang was re-connecting with his Chinese heritage. In Chinatown? And what is so Chinese about this part of Central LA other than the foods and the gift shops that he was concurrently helping to promote. As before, Mr Wang’s show was really about the “WangFest”—this time, a yeshi (夜市, night market) that offered guests dim sum and, of course, bubble tea. There is, to us, something terribly lazy about tapping Chinatown and its attendant clichés, and passing that off as aligning with one’s roots.

Mr Wang is, of course, looking at Oriental aesthetics through his Chinese-American eyes, but more the latter than the former, as if pandering to Americans’ idea of what Chinese (or Asian) is. Exotic is crucial as subtext for a collection that says nothing about how he saw his ethnicity in the greater language of design. Mr Wang, born in San Francisco, is, in fact, Taiwanese, and it was the Chinatown of the American West Coast that completed the mise-en-scène of his sleaze-tinged, chinois-not collection. Reportedly, Alexander Wang (王大仁, or Wang Daren) is doing well in China, but it isn’t the fashion equivalent of noodles that he is selling to the Chinese, it is urban Americana revealing substantial skin. Tackiness, as we know, is borderless. And skin-baring is nothing new to him, but coming after February’s New York Fashion Week, his skin show was rather belated. Yet, it did not deter Mr Wang. Or was this merely deflecting from those allegations of sexual misconduct?

If you were hoping to see some rehabilitation of his image, you would be disappointed. It really bordered on the irritating to see more of those skimpy horizontal fabrics revealing much of the breast as clothing. Is there really a huge market for a bodysuit that had more body than suit? Or those ruffled halter-necked pieces exposing much of the torso that one product development manager we know called “vulva tops”? A next-to-nothing Shein has not done and will not do? Even Adriana Lima, pregnant, was mirroring Rihanna on the runway. As we have lamented before, autumn/winter is this scanty? Or, is the US really not that cold any more? Well, if you need to keep warm, you could amp up the vampiness—there are also those crotch-high boots and up-to-the-armpit leather gloves that could have been those very boots wrongly sized at sampling stage! It is truly hard to discern a takeaway from all this. BOF was right to say, “but even before the allegations, Wang’s brand was waning”. Truly, is it still cool to wear Alexander Wang?

Screen grab (top): Alexander Wang/YouTube. Photos: Alexander Wang