If the reports are true, and WWD seems confident that they are, Alexander Wang will not renew his contract at Kering-owned Balenciaga. When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Kering told Fashionista that “discussions are underway,” reiterating what was expressed on Monday’s earnings call.
But let’s just assume that Wang is indeed parting ways with the luxury conglomerate. There are plenty of reasons why — for both sides — that this seems like the right move.
Sales at Balenciaga are growing and the company is profitable. (The company’s current revenue is about 350 million euros, according to the trade paper.) However, half of that revenue comes from its own stores and shop-in-shops, which have jumped from three to 90 in the past seven years. Because Kering doesn’t break out numbers for its smaller brands, it’s impossible to know whether that sales growth has to do with adding more stores or an actual increase in demand.
Even if Balenciaga’s sales are growing at a moderate pace overall, Wang has yet to produce an “It” bag on the level of Nicolas Ghesquière’s motorcycle bag, which was introduced in 2001 and continues to be sold. (And really, it still looks pretty good.) The success of Wang’s own Rockie bag was certainly a part of the reason Kering wanted to work with him in the first place. While Wang’s bags for the house have been beautiful, they never hit in the way of Proenza Schouler’s PS1 or Céline’s Phantom tote. The jewelry, on the other hand, has been a big hit. At least anecdotally. Fashion editors have incorporated the designer’s knot chokers and bow bracelets into their everyday looks.
As for the clothes themselves, Wang’s strongest collection was certainly his most recent, where he seemed to finally establish a grown-up, interesting a point of view that went beyond tweaking ideas from the archives. In general, reviews have been nice because the clothes have been consistently beautiful. But they haven’t been glowing. Wang has not been able to match the energy that his predecessor — or someone like Raf Simons at Dior or Jonathan Anderson at Loewe — has conjured with recent collections.
However, Wang’s Balenciaga wares have shined on the red carpet. Ghesquière has plenty of celebrity fans, but his silhouettes tend to be short, which means you see his clothes at launch parties or daytime events. Wang smartly designed long gowns for Sienna Miller and Cate Blanchett that impressed in contrast to typically drab red-carpet fare.
Of course, there is the possibility that Kering is perfectly happy with Wang and that the designer wants to focus his seemingly boundless energy on his namesake collection. If any American has the potential to be “the next Michael Kors,” it’s Alexander Wang. He has the branding down, the design down, and like Kors, he’s a showman. Given that AW is a family-run business that is currently seeking outside investors to ramp up its expansion, it would be understandable if he wants to invest his creative capital in his own name.
There’s also the matter of lifestyle, which was a major focus of a September 2014 profile of Wang in the New York Times. “In recent years the fashion world has been rocked by the suicides of Alexander McQueen and L’Wren Scott,” wrote Vanessa Friedman. “And though neither was blamed on the industry (or not entirely), there was much discussion of the way the pressure has ratcheted up along with the pace, which now demands, at the very least, four new collections a year — for one brand.”
Although there may indeed be a happy ending for John Galliano, his struggles were a forewarning to young designers that in the end, there is only one Karl Lagerfeld, and it’s very, very easy to burn out and break down by taking too much on. In the piece, Wang — although adamant that he would stay at Balenciaga — also laments in the Times story that he has no social life in Paris, and that he is envious of friends able to take vacation. There is a sense right now that people are working harder than ever for more hours of the day. But with that constant contact means there’s also a desire to take care of oneself — to truly disengage — in precious off-hours.
Regardless, Wang remains one of the most compelling stars of his era. As for who may replace him at Balenciaga, the rumors are already swirling. While reports suggest that an unknown designer could take the reins — given that the approach has been so successful with Alessandro Michele at Gucci — one name that has already popped up is Simon Porte Jacquemus. A representative for the Parisian designer, whose clothes possess a refreshing hit of childlike wonderment, said that she could not comment on the matter.