A Different Wang

Another streetwear brand banking on a family name. This is, however, not by that Wang

Team Wang Pop-Up store at The Shopping Gallery, Voco

It is probably the buzziest store opening since the start of the pandemic. Team Wang Design, a rising star in the firmament of “luxury street wear” opened yesterday evening to intensely enthusiastic response. If you are unfamiliar with the newish label, it is understandable that you’d think that Team Wang is linked to the designer Alexander Wang. But it is not. The label is, in fact, the brainchild of popstar Jackson Wang (王嘉尔). He has, as fans are well aware, added fashion designer to his resume. But if Team Wang sounds familiar, it is because Alexander Wang (王大仁) had used it too, and the phrase was employed for his collaboration with H&M in 2014. But Alexander Wang’s “team” of musicians, muses, and models who were associated with him were often referred to by the press as his “squad”. Team Wang is thus dissimilar as it is not about a clique (or, worse, hangers-on). Rather, it was initially set up to manage Mr Wang’s growing commitments in China and then to include a record label and now fashion design too. And Mr Wang seems to acknowledge that the brand’s creative output is a collective one.

And the clothes have found their way here through the auspices of Club 21 who has set up the eponymous pop-up—dubbed Mudance—not only on our shores, but in Chengdu and Bangkok, concurrently. As early or late (it really depends) as eleven yesterday morning, The Shopping Gallery at the former Hilton Hotel, now Voco Orchard, was busy, not with shoppers, but with construction crew setting up the opening of Team Wang Design (the shop was still merchandise-free) and, unsurprisingly, numerous female fans reserving a spot to catch their idol (this was an invitation-only event). Two hours before the party was due to start, there was a dispiriting crowd, restrained by mills barriers just to the left of the main door to the lobby of the hotel. The side entrance to The Shopping Gallery was shut too. The girls were visibly excited, presumably expecting the star they had been waiting for to arrive by car and alight at that very spot. This was happening as it rained. If the reception the fans gave Mr Wang at Changi airport yesterday was any indication, this really was not surprising.

Outside Voco Hotel, fervid fans waiting patiently despite the rain

But unexpected was the wait that invited guests had to endure. The invitation to the event stated 6.30pm—presumably the time it would the start. Jackson Wang had arrived some fifteen minutes earlier to a screaming welcome. He was escorted to a room in the hotel, where he went to “freshen up”, as the chatter at the lobby of the hotel went. Guests were held around the escalator to the second floor, where the proceedings would unfold. An hour had past, but most of the attendees were still waiting in the increasingly unbearable heat. Nathan Hartono in a salmon-coloured, sweat-soaked tee, would later share on Instagram a snap of him and Mr Wang, with the comment, “…I am clearly sTrUgGliN 🥵🥵🥵”. But still-waiting Fiona Xie, togged in Team Wang Design, appeared to be getting impatient. Jean Yip, the beauty mogul, and her family were seen heading for the exit, telling someone, “we’re leaving. Bye.” Those with more clout could make a phone call while aggressively pushing their way through the crowd and be ushered up the escalator, immediately. Word started to go around to explain the delay: Mr Wang had accepted a media interview. Ms Universe 2016 Cheryl Chou, chatting with someone, was cheerily indifferent to the crowd’s waning patience.

Sixty five minutes later, the escalator was ready to transport the guests one floor up. Wrist bands issued earlier had to be shown for entry. At the top of the escalator, a large crowd had already formed. A fellow escalator rider was heard wondering angrily: “We were waiting for so long, but actually so many people already here?!” Inside, the pop-up, Mediacorp stars and influencers had first dib of the offerings, including the man of the hour himself. Dressed simply in a black T-shirt (with sleeves folded up) and black pants (not jeans), he was obliging everyone who approached him with selfies and polite chatter, but remained inscrutable behind vaguely cat-eyed shades, which he kept on all night. When he left the store to address the crowd outside, grown women near the door were hyperventilating: “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” The people who should be there—the screaming fans—were not. They continued to wait in collective high for their idol to exit the hotel. Somewhere above them, he was dancing enjoyably, fenced by more-delighted, also-bopping lasses.

Jackson Wang addressing the crowd outside the Team Wang Designpop-up at Voco

Jackson Wang was born in Hong Kong before he moved to Seoul to be part of the group Got7, a name that would work very well on our island. As fans know by now, Mr Wang was spotted while playing basketball in school by JYP Entertainment (Stray Kids!) agents who managed to persuade the school goer to join an audition for the company’s global search for talents. Among 2,000 participants, he came up top. Although around this time he was offered a Standford University scholarship for fencing (he was very much a sportsman, following the footsteps of his fencer father and gymnast mother), he turned it down. Instead he answered the calling to do music. He accepted the JYPE offer and moved to Seoul in 2011. Ater two years of notoriously tough K-pop training, including a made-for-television competition which pitched trainees of JYPE against YG Entertainment (Blackpink!), Mr Wang was made member of Got7, debuting with the single Girls Girls Girls in 2014. The rest is, as is often the case with K-popstars, has been the unstoppable rise of Jackson Wang.

Last year, it was widely reported that Got7, JYP Entertainment’s “most successful boy group”, has “terminated” their contract with the company. This came amid fan dismay that JYPE had allegedly not done enough for their boy groups, with Got7 singled out (their career had curiously been dominated by EPs rather than full-length albums, for example), leading to the thread on Reddit, ”JYP STOP SABOTAGING GOT7”. Fans were distraught that their fave septet would be no more. But, The Korea Times clarified in an editorial just three months ago that without JYPE, “this was not the end of GOT7―instead, it was a new beginning”; the group released a self-tiled EP. Even when recording new material with his band mates, Jackson Wang was forging ahead with his own carrier, concentrating on his homeland market, China. He founded Team Wang in 2017 as, first, a record label. The 28-year-old is considered to be quadrilingual—“fluent”, many say, in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean, so the plan was to establish him as an international star. His first single under Team Wang was 2019’s all-English Papillon. A year later, he released a duet with soon-to-begin-his-world-tour JJ Lin (林俊杰), the R&B-ish Should’ve Let Go.

The one print of the collection—tiger tails hidden in the profusion of peonies—that seems to draw shoppers

Team Wang Design was birthed in pandemic-high 2020, reportedly after three years of gestation. HBX, the e-store of the streetwear news site Hypebeast, describes the label, which it carries: “Wang’s vision is to align his brand with his wardrobe”. But the rapper-turned-designer is known to be partial to Fendi (although he has been associated with Armani and Adidas). He is, according to Vogue, “a Fendi muse”, and so enamoured he is with the Roman label that he even rapped about it in the track Fendiman from 2018, and urged his listeners with the plea, “call me Fendiman“. That possibly lead him to sign, a year later, with the brand as their China ambassador. Although his own label was not released until two years, he did rap in the same song, “Team Wang, label what I made”, preempting that the clothes would be on par with Fendi’s. The first collection and the core line that reflects the brand’s DNA, Cookies—The Original, comprises what are almost synonymous with streetwear: T-shirts, hoodies, blousons, trackpants, and hoodies, and all in black. The images for the launch are admittedly arresting, and are evocative of brands with European roots.

Team Wang Design, in many ways, treads the path already paved and trodden by HK-star-conceived brands such as Edison Chen’s Clot or Shawn Yu’s Madness. Celebrity multi-hyphenates are really crowding the pop/design sphere, and it would take more than references to Chinese culture, motifs and whatnot (a direction also adopted by Clot), to stand apart from the rest, or the West. The latest collection of Team Wang Design is part of another line called Sparkles. Like Cookies, the pieces would be considered staples that Mr Wang’s fans would not find challenging to accept. The brand says on their website that “pastel pink, flowers, and this season’s iconic floral design” are for “creating the perfect midsummer party”. Mudance, a play on the name of the Chinese flower mudan (牡丹花) or peony, is about enjoying oneself; is about play. Mr Wang told Vogue Thailand last month, when he was in Bangkok to shore up support for the Bangkok leg of the pop-up, “It’s summertime and summer is fun, and it’s crazy. Everybody jump (sic), and everybody needs to dance. So that’s why this collection we call it Mudance.” If the word would not excite lexicographers, the print may move graphic designers. He explained further: “It is a mixture of, of course, the mudan flower and the year of the tiger.”

The queue outside the Team Wang Design pop-up this morning

This morning, along the sidewalk between Voco Hotel and Wheelock Place, many youngsters were carrying the familiar Club 21 paper bag. Emerging from the side entrance of the renamed hotel, two teenaged girls in oversized tees and invisible shorts were each with the same carrier. We asked them if they had just visited the Team Wang Design pop-up. They froze with shyness. We told them we just wanted to know if it was any good. “Yes,” they chorused and giggled. “We came last night, but they won’t let us in. No invitation. So we try again today, lah.” Was it packed? “There is a queue,” they replied in unison, again. “The store opens at 10.30, but we were here at nine.” Your bags are full. Did you buy a lot? “Yah,” and they moved off with a gurgle of giggles

The pop-up is in an actual shop lot. Outside, two gold, metal trees (palms?) rose out of an irregular sand pit, set on a plywood floor in the colour of, well, peony. (The sand suggested the seaside and, therefore, beach wear. According to Mr Wang, it “is something I’ve always wanted to do; I’ve always wanted to do a beach pants [sic] for guys and then, a bikini for girls”.) Inside, the massive space, with just two racks of clothes, looked like it was half-dipped in pink cream. The light emerging from it cast a pale patina the shade of strawberry milkshake over the beach set-up. A queue that continued to lengthen had formed on the perimeter of the sand pit. There were mainly girls in the line. One of them was heard exclaiming, “I love this pink”, concurring with Jackson Wang, who said in the Vogue Thailand interview, “I chose pink because—honestly, personally—I’m a big fan of pink… And I just wanted to do it… I’ve always had a feeling for pink.”

Team Wang Design pop-up store is at Voco Orchard until 31 August 2022. Photos: Chin Boh Kay