Despite reports of predatory behaviour lodged against the designer, fashion insiders are welcoming his comeback with open arms. And that’s a problem.
On February 8, designer Alexander Wang marked his return to the New York City fashion circuit since facing several accusations of sexual assault. Titled “Cupid’s Door,” his Fall 2023 show offered “romantic” imagery, complete with zebra-print carpeting, pink velvet drapes and sensual red lighting. Industry insiders Anna Wintour sat in the audience, while It girls Gabbriette Bechtel and Julia Fox walked the runway. It was a star-studded affair that made one thing abundantly clear: Alexander Wang is back.
But why is fashion so willing to forgive and forget?
After rising to prominence in the late 2000s with his eponymous label, the designer established a New York City party-goer aesthetic, both through his work and personal brand. In 2019, this captivating image came into question when Alexander Wang faced allegations of sexual assault. After model Owen Mooney alleged that he was groped by Wang in 2017, other accounts began to surface on social media accusing the designer of drugging, non-consensually touching and exposing the genitals of victims, many of whom were trans women.
Though he initially denied these claims, Wang later met with his accusers in March 2021. He then issued a statement on Instagram expressing remorse. “A number of individuals have come forward recently to raise claims against me regarding my past personal behaviour,” it read. “I support their right to come forward, and I’ve listened carefully to what they had to say. It was not easy for them to share their stories, and I regret acting in a way that caused them pain.”
He added that he and his accusers “disagree on some of the details of these personal interactions,” but that he will “set a better example” and use his influence to “encourage others to recognize harmful behaviours.” Since then, he’s been mostly laying low. That is, until now.
After marking his initial comeback with a Los Angeles runway show in April 2022, Wang’s return to the New York fashion scene has been met with a questionable amount of industry backing. Take Julia Fox, who closed the February 8 show. When confronted about her decision to support the contentious designer, she defended Wang on TikTok. “We do need to leave room for rehabilitation and for those who put in the work and heal and learn from their mistakes,” she wrote in part. But what “work” has Alexander Wang done?
Even in the thick of being “cancelled,” the designer’s label hasn’t exactly suffered. Since the allegations, Alexander Wang has been building his brand presence in China with new stores and investors. He has maintained an exclusive celebrity client roster from Rihanna to Kylie Jenner. He’s even outfitted A-listers for high-profile red carpets, including the 2023 Critics Choice Awards. Through it all, his company reportedly makes more than $200 million in sales annually. This momentum, paired with his return to the New York City fashion landscape, points to the skewed power dynamics between Wang and his alleged victims. But really, his comeback should come as no surprise.
After all, Alexander Wang is not the first authoritative fashion figure to evade controversy. For years, Kanye West spewed hate toward minority groups without facing real repercussions. Despite his racist remarks and fatphobic rhetoric, Karl Lagerfeld is being honoured at the 2023 Met Gala. And even with a track record of racism and homophobia, Dolce & Gabbana continuously proves to be infallible thanks to endorsements by celebrities like the Kardashians. Instead of taking victims seriously, the fashion industry has a habit of repackaging unethical actions into subversive aesthetics.
As such, Alexander Wang’s refreshed brand presence is leaning into the trendy counterculture du jour. A recent promotional video shows fraudster-turned-fashion-icon Anna Delvey flashing her ankle monitor. The label’s new standout runway stars, Fox and Bechtel, are best known for their viral rebellious beauty choices. And thanks to his collection of low-slung pants, faux fur jackets and animal print motifs, Vogue proclaimed that the designer “still has a handle on what the kids want.” In other words, Alexander Wang is cool now.
With a stronger global audience and new financial backing, Alexander Wang is arguably more influential than ever, allegations and all. Somehow, this means a reputation fraught with sexual assault accusations can be repackaged as new and on-trend. Unfortunately, his return to fashion’s good graces is indicative of a system that prioritizes those who have power and ignores (or exploits) those who don’t.
By propping up provocative figures to garner flashy moments of shock factor, the fashion industry reliably views controversy as its most valuable currency. But when will it embrace accountability?