Wang Off Duty
New York magazine|March 1-14, 2021
The designer Alexander Wang was famous for his partying. Now, he could become infamous.
Angelina Chapin & Matthew Schneier

IN APRIL 2013, Prue McCallum, a recent Fashion Institute of Technology grad, ended up at the first of what would become one of New York’s most combustible Berlin-inspired raves. “Shade” was thrown by the nightlife impresarios Ladyfag and Seva Granik, whose parties brought together glittery club kids, serious techno heads, shirtless Chelsea twunks, and black-clad fashion-industry strivers. The 23-year-old had RSVP’d to a Facebook invitation with the location “TBA Day of Show” that led hundreds of people to a giant warehouse in East Williamsburg with red and blue lasers, neon lights, and glow-in-the-dark drinks. McCallum, who at the time identified as a cisgender gay man but now identifies as nonbinary, showed up ready to lose themselves in a set. They didn’t expect to brush shoulders with Alexander Wang.

Their meeting was accidental. McCallum had been on a mission to find a straight guy for their female friend and was quizzing strangers about which way they swung. On the dark dance floor, it was harder to make out exactly whom they were approaching. McCallum was starstruck—and slightly embarrassed—when they spun around to ask “Are you gay or straight?” and came face-to-face with one of their fashion idols. McCallum was obsessed with Balenciaga, where Wang was then the creative director. From what McCallum could see, Wang looked amused. “I’m straight,” he said cheekily—he isn’t—to which McCallum laughed and said, “So am I.” Then the playful banter took a turn. Wang said, “Let’s find out,” according to McCallum, and reached down their pants and groped McCallum’s genitals.

McCallum at first froze and then started to move away, too stunned to say anything. They didn’t tell their friend—the two weren’t very close, and wouldn’t it be easier to just forget about the incident and move on? For the rest of the night, they danced at the back of the room to avoid Wang. A few hours later, McCallum felt a hand on their shoulder and turned around to see the designer. “I like the way you dance,” McCallum remembers Wang, now “slower and sloppier,” saying as he reached out his arms toward them. Before he could touch them again, Wang’s friend pulled him away.

McCallum tried to shrug off the incident. A few days later, they told their best friend what had happened. “They were still very freaked out,” says McCallum’s friend, who also works in fashion. “They were trying to laugh it off but were clearly not okay.”

McCallum suppressed any uncomfortable feelings that might jeopardize their career. In fashion, as in many creative fields, the lines between work and play often blur; being part of the right nightlife scene means access to the right connections, and plenty of fashion stars have been born on the dance floor. For young people in search of a big break, running into a major designer at a club could feel like an opportunity that shouldn’t be squandered.

For Wang, life, or the version of it he marketed to great success, was a party. The Wang look was cool, casual, and club-ready, a wardrobe for his friends and himself to wear to work all day and play all night. From independent beginnings, the designer had reached hundreds of millions of dollars in global sales and then was courted by, and eventually worked with, everyone from Balenciaga and Bulgari in fashion’s upper echelons to H&M, Uniqlo, and Adidas at the street level. Through it all, Wang was his own best advertisement, a smile plastered on his face as he bounded down the runway, a drink raised in his hand from behind the stanchions of the VIP section, surrounded by models and Miley.

But in December, allegations of sexual assault suddenly threw on the lights. In a video posted to TikTok, a male model named Owen Mooney accused Wang of groping him at a Ladyfag party in 2017. A Facebook post from Gia Garison, a trans model, resurfaced in which she says the next month, at the same venue, Wang tried to “pull my panties down and expose my genitals in the VIP area.” More voices began joining the chorus, first anonymously on the @ShitModelManagement and @DietPrada Instagram accounts, then, slowly, on the record to The Guardian, The Business of Fashion, the New York Times, and the Daily Mail. In January, high-profile civil-rights attorney Lisa Bloom announced she was representing two of Wang’s accusers; that number has since grown to 11.

Meanwhile, Wang has gone on the offensive, dismissing the allegations as “baseless and grotesquely false,” adding that they “have been wrongly amplified by social-media accounts infamous for posting defamatory material from undisclosed and/or anonymous sources with zero evidence or any fact-checking whatsoever.” After a seven-week pause, his brand has started to post on Instagram again, though sources say he has been avoiding the office in recent weeks.

Wang, 37, has not been charged with any crime, and Bloom has not yet filed suit. But New York spoke with seven people whose allegations range from groping on the dance floor to unwanted oral sex in clubs and corroborated their accounts through contemporaneous disclosures to friends and loved ones, text messages, photographs, and receipts from events.

Through his attorney, Wang declined to comment on all but one of these stories. The allegations, the earliest dating to 2010 and the most recent to 2019, are set against the backdrop of club culture and queer parties, where such incidents are often dismissed—in many cases by survivors themselves—as the price of partying at all.

So far, many of Wang’s most visible celebrity friends, including Zoë Kravitz, Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner, have stayed silent; a few, like Kylie Jenner, Nicki Minaj, and Ashley Graham, have unfollowed him on Instagram. (Supporters are choosing their words carefully. Kravitz changed the caption of a photo she posted of herself with the designer from “happy birthday you absolute trouble maker” to “happy birthday @alexwangny” after the allegations spread widely online.) No major retailers have commented or taken action.

Wang has long been both a rare model of independent success in a grinding, financially perilous industry—even rarer as a young gay man of color—and a party boy. At one point, according to a former employee, he coined “The company where it pays to party” as a kind of motto for his label and printed it on morale-boosting merch. Now he and his company will discover exactly how much that ethos cost them.

BORN IN SAN FRANCISCO to Taiwanese immigrant parents, Wang went through the private Drew School before coming to New York to attend Parsons for fashion design. After two years, he dropped out to get to work. He started his label in 2005 as a capsule collection of six sweaters that he showed to wholesale buyers out of his apartment as his friends sat around eating pizza. By 2007, he had a full collection: stretched-out T-shirts and leather biker pants, party dresses and bra tops.

Early critics weren’t sure what to make of it. “The clothes had a street currency but not much of a designer vision,” the New York Times sniffed.

That critique seemed to miss the point. Enthusiasm and speed defined him: At a time when the playfulness of early-’90s fashion had given way to something more cerebral, Wang was a giddy explosion, and shoppers and editors returned his enthusiasm in kind. He scooped up industry awards by the handful, and the business grew; by 2010, he was reported to be doing $25 million a year in sales.

Wang’s raucous reputation was soon a matter of public record. To those in fashion, his name suggested the after-party as much as the runway. His postshow ragers were the most sought-after invites of Fashion Week. He took over a gas station and allowed partygoers to help themselves to its candy-bar spoils; he staged a massive carnival with bumper cars and a merry-go-round and Jell-O shots; he took over the Pier 17 mall at the South Street Seaport just before its razing and booked Minaj to perform. “Other designers who designed cool clothes and had model friends seemed a little bit stiffer, a little bit more self-conscious,” says Darrell Hartman, a reporter who covered the party circuit at the time and attended several of Wang’s parties. “If any designer was willing to let loose at his own party, especially in the later hours, he was that designer. I think that was part of his genius—he was living the life, and he had these beautiful model friends who actually were friends of his. It didn’t feel like a marketing line item.”

Wang’s calling card was the party bus on which he’d ferry his crew around town, whether to his own events or to outer borough raves. For one fashion show in 2017, he packed a bus full of models and had it driven from Nolita to Bushwick. For an ad campaign shot by Steven Klein a few years before, models lounged in its headachy neon glow.

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