It's safe to say that no contemporary designer understands youth culture better than Alexander Wang--particularly New York City youth culture. He knows what an ideal Saturday night looks like to Parsons students, twentysomething artist types and twentysomething wannabe artist types.
They don’t want to go to any old party; they want to dance and drink beer in a decaying old vaudeville house and movie theater in Harlem, while 23-year-old DJ Metro Boomin’ spins curse-filled rap songs.
That was the scene ahead of Wang’s Fall 2017 fashion show at the once-magnificent RKO Hamilton Theater, which had been transformed into a mosh pit of sorts. Guests were warned about the “standing room only” situation at this year’s show, though that didn’t deter celebrities like Zoë Kravitz, Brooklyn Beckham, Teyana Taylor, A$AP Rocky, Kylie Jenner and Tyga from showing up.
While the VIPs presumably came in through a VIP entrance, the rest of us walked into what looked like the storage room of a brewery: kegs and boxes with faded Peroni labels were stacked in the center of the entryway, the walls of which were lined with black plastic.
Servers held out trays of the Italian beer in plastic cups for guests to grab on their way in, moving along a dark passage that led to the theater’s dimly-lit, graffitied foyer, then descending into the theater itself.
It was impossible to see much from the outer edges of the crowd except for a crush of people near the center of the theater and a DJ area off to the left.
Would the models descend from the ceiling, just as dancers had done at Wang’s after-party a few seasons ago?
Looking up, I got a vague sense of the theater’s decaying splendor: a red spotlight bounced off the ceiling, parts of which appeared to flake off with every low thudding thump of the base.
Wang’s brand has always been synonymous with New York’s cool kid scene, in part because Wang grew up in it himself. His shows’ after-parties tend to be the most hyped New York Fashion Week events.
But Wang had insisted he wasn’t having an after-party this year, and apparently opted to entertain his guests before the show instead. Then, he turned the no after-party situation into a spectacle: “NO AFTER PARTY” was printed on some models’ tights and in big letters on the designer’s own long-sleeved tee when he ran out to take a bow at the end of the show.
If this was some kind of trolling stunt by Wang, it was uncharacteristic (more Kanye West than Alexander Wang) and heavy-handed.
I didn’t stick around long enough after the show to find out. Far as I could tell, Wang had already treated guests to a pre-show hip hop concert in one of New York City’s most storied and majestic buildings. What more could the youths want?
Not only does Wang know how New York’s cool kids want to spend their Saturday nights, he knows what they’ll wear for the occasion: black, black, and more black, judging from his latest collection.
All these black-on-black looks came in a variety of different textures and shapes, including leather (pants and shorts), fringed wool and leather shirts (Kendall Jenner wore one), and silk cutout dresses.
There was some grey and silver mixed in, from a double-breasted Prince of Wales plaid coat to chain mail tees. There were also ball studs embroidered on skirt hems and bell sleeves, and rhinestones sewn onto sweater dress cuffs and turtlenecks like jewelry.
None of this marked a particularly creative leap for Wang, whose collections have generally been partial to black and other goth or punk elements. He’s been accenting his black clothing and accessories with metal studs and hardware for years now.
But Wang’s collection echoed some trends we’ve already seen this week, from the Western influence at Calvin Klein to the bell sleeves at Jonathan Simkhai earlier on Saturday.
Simkhai presented a collection that looked to power dynamics as they played out in old-world Spain, from its 19th century architecture to its aristocracy, as well as traditions like bullfighting.
Matador-inspired bolero jackets came with regal ruffled collars, while his custom lacework patterns were meant to evoke vaulted Spanish cathedrals.
The designer also played with corsetry in unexpected ways: faded black denim pants that laced up the front of the leg; a strapless, corseted denim top; and a satin lace-up midi dress.
Simkhai wrote in his show notes that he understands “women need to draw attention to their invaluable place in society, now more than ever,” and that designing a collection that “puts forms of feminine strength on display was very personal for me this season.”
Some of the pieces felt forced, as if he’d tried to fit too many references into a single look. The bolero jacket with metallic threading and grommets, for instance, worked less well than the simpler black and white ones.
But his intentions were admirable, and it was fun to see him take risks--even if some of those risks were less wearable than others.
Simkhai also sounded a personal note about being proud to participate in CFDA’s partnership with Planned Parenthood.
“I am extremely passionate about advocating for equality for the LGBTQIA community, reproductive freedom, and fair rights for immigrants and refugees,” the designer wrote. He went above and beyond some designers by donating $5 to Planned Parenthood for every seat in the room, in addition to all proceeds from online sales of his “Feminist AF” statement tees, which were gifted to front row guests at the show.