“Go to the bar and get stocked up—I want to see you with both hands full!” Alexander Wang yells to a crowd of 700 fans and model besties at a Coachella event—held during a swirling dust storm in the California desert—to fete the designer’s upcoming Alexander Wang x H&M collection.
By now, Wang is accustomed to being the life of the party. In less than a decade, the New York fashion prodigy has built a brand with global reach: His namesake line is carried in 54 countries. Last year, he succeeded Nicolas Ghesquière as creative director for Balenciaga. This fall, Wang becomes the first American to collaborate with H&M in the 10 years that the Swedish powerhouse has been partnering with high-fashion designers. Oh, and he’s 30.
The core of Wang’s appeal is that he’s cool and so are his clothes. (His postcatwalk parties—themed variously as a carnival, a popup disco in a gas station and a rave at an abandoned minimall—are the hottest invite during New York Fashion Week.) If the Parisienne wants to be Isabel Marant, the embodiment of Left Bank bohemian chic, her New York counterpart wants to be Wang’s best friend, the ineffably hip Manhattanite known as the “M.O.D.” (model off duty—Wang coined the phrase) who, when not posing for photo shoots, lives in the designer’s easy silk-jersey dresses, shrunken biker jackets and slouchy knits.
When it came to conceptualizing his hotly anticipated H&M collection, however, Wang opted not to rely on past hits. “H&M has done an incredible job working on archive collections with luxury brands like Versace and Maison Martin Margiela, but we’re a younger company,” explains Wang, onset for the ELLE photo shoot, a few months after that Coachella bash. “I didn’t feel like it made sense to bring things back from just a couple of seasons ago. Some ideas are inspired by previous projects, but 90 percent of the pieces are completely new.”
So new, in fact, that the pieces fall under an entirely new product category in the Alexander Wang world: performancewear. Logos—stars of Wang’s smashhit spring/summer 2014 collection—return via quick-dry track shirts and perforated lasercut shorts bonded and branded with “Alexander Wang” in silver mesh. Compression crop tops, tights and socks play with logos of different scales, as does a plunge sports bra made entirely of wide bands of elastic. Seamless recycled polyamide T-shirts and tank tops are knitted in a pointelle pattern with cheeky hidden messages (e.g., “This is an Alexander Wang T-shirt”) that reveal themselves when worn.
“I’ve always been kind of infatuated with team apparel,” says Wang, who laughingly describes his own gym attendance as “sparing” and whose participation in high school athletics at a private school in San Francisco was very much from the sidelines. “Sports culture is such a big part of our society, and it’s fascinating to me to watch how much people are into it.”
Wang has expressed this interest in sartorial terms before, most notably in his spring/summer 2010 collection, which was stocked with linebacker-shoulder sweatshirts, high-waisted leather shorts and lace-up sandal boots paired with knee-high socks. For his H&M collection, that sporty influence is explicitly interpreted in the collab’s straight-up athletic gear, including a yoga mat, water bottle, towel and swim goggles—the designer’s gift to the gym devotee, as is the great technical outerwear, including a jacquard scuba coat and a quilted-leather puffer. It almost seems a shame to consign this chic gym kit to exercise, and for Wang, that’s exactly the point. “It’s not made specifically just to work out in,” he says. “It’s also made to, you know, go out dancing in! I wanted to create multi-functional pieces for the way women are active now. They don’t have time not to be comfortable or to be handicapped by their wardrobe.”
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