The sporting life of Wang and H&M

The sporting life of Wang and H&M
Chinese actor Li Chen attends a launch party for Alexander Wang's collaboration with H&M in Shanghai.

After putting on a catwalk show, designer Alexander Wang always runs out from backstage and returns quickly. His latest collaboration with H&M is sportswear.

So does he love sports?

Unexpectedly, Wang's answer is a laughing "no".

"I don't do any sports," admits the sprightly designer. Wearing his own black T-shirt and jeans, he spoke to reporters earlier this month in Shanghai before his H&M collection hit stores here. "I run onstage mainly because I get nervous in front of the big crowd. I cannot see anybody, just run and come back."

But when H&M approached him two years ago, he was eager to create performance wear and activewear because it's relevant for everyone in today's society.

"When you look out in the streets in New York," he says, "people are running around in gym clothes. They go to the gym, go to work and meet friends in sports clothes. That's the norm. I'm not athletic but I always feel comfortable and confident in a T-shirt and jeans."

Wang's sportswear, of course, is not only for wearing at the gym. It's a kind of new nightlife uniform, with versatility.

"If you're going out, going dancing, you sweat as well, you need to be active. Those clothes can be translated to things you can use in other events or situations, say, going to the club or out to dinner," the designer explains.

Swedish street-fashion brand H&M has collaborated with famous designers, such as Versace, Lanvin and Margiela, to launch special collections for 10 years. Wang is the first American designer in this project.

Margareta van den Bosch, H&M's creative adviser and formerly head of design for H&M for 30 years, says the company has followed Wang for a while. "With the sports influence that is in fashion today, I think it was a brilliant moment to bring him in."

Previous H&M designer collections have been mostly redos of the best of the labels' archives. But Wang wanted to do something brand new.

"I don't want to just reintroduce the kind of things I've done in the past. I want to do something that really excites not only my customers and H&M customers, but new customers. It does not matter if you are a luxury customer or a mass customer, if you are active or not. Anyone can really find something in this collection."

Wang says the point isn't to take luxury and make it cheaper: "When you spend $60 on a sports top or running shorts, you want to buy something of quality, made properly."

He used fabrics and techniques that suit sports; most of the line was made in Italy.

He enjoyed the collaboration and says he learned a lot from it.

"We designed everything together-from the string on the hand tag, to the pin, to the finish of the label."

To Wang, the hardest part was editing. They looked at almost every sport, including boxing, wrestling, skiing and surfing. He designed a lot of things from clothes to accessories such as boxing gloves, laceup stiletto boots, sports bras, key rings and bottles, and had to take many out in the end.

Interestingly, Wang said the boxing gloves are among his favourite pieces.

"You don't really use them. I don't box but I just want to have them and put in the room, you know. I just like to own those beautiful things and interesting-looking things."

Chinese customers started lining up outside 16 H&M stores in nine cities at midnight on Nov 5; once the stores opened the next morning, everything was sold out in three hours.

Wang Lu, 27, arrived at the Xidan location in Beijing around 5 am. Once inside, she grabbed a black waterproof coat-the model Chinese pop star Li Yuchun wore at the launch party in Shanghai-and a gym bag.

"Basically I have bought the designer's collection for H&M every time. The project is interesting. What's more, I'm a big fan of Wang," she says.

Wang has many fans in China, partly because his parents are from Taiwan. He speaks Mandarin at home, but after growing up in San Francisco and working in New York, he has an international outlook.

"I cannot say I do this in a very Chinese way, do that in an American way. I have a balance of breathing Chinese culture and American culture," he says. "We all live today in the world where everybody communicates on the Internet, everyone gets access to information at the same time and at the same speed. There is less and less a definite line that separates us."

Wang, 30, adds that he was not from a fashion family but just naturally found passion in this field at a very young age.

"It is like something clicks in your head and you feel completed committed to do it," he says, noting that he started working in high school and didn't really have a mentor.

"I just learned step by step. I've definitely made many mistakes, but those mistakes have brought me to where I am now."

Wang says one workday is never like the next. He travels between New York and Paris a lot, on some days meeting in the office all day and on other days running between events and campaigns one after another.

"That is also why I love my job. I often tell my team that you have to wait for anything, prepare for anything and always be open to any kind of meeting. I don't want to restrict myself to fashion. Influences-inspirations come from everywhere and from different people of different backgrounds."

He says his greatest reward as a fashion designer is the element of surprise, especially when he sees unexpected people wearing his work who don't seem conscious of the brand.

"They just like the shoes or the bag," he says. "That's really exciting."

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