The Business of Fashion
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
This past week, American designer Alexander Wang came under siege as at least eight men and trans women accused him of inappropriate behaviour.
Wang strenuously denied the claims, calling them “baseless and grotesquely false,” in a statement to BoF. However, the story is likely to remain in the discourse for some time. The designer is one of the most prominent figures in fashion to face multiple accusations of sexual harassment and assault in the #MeToo era.
Anonymous reports about Wang’s alleged behaviour began appearing on social media a few years ago, but were not circulated widely. That changed last week, when Owen Mooney, a model and designer, took to the social media platform TikTok, claiming that he had been assaulted by Wang in January 2017. Shit Model Management, a Twitter and Instagram account that gathers and publicises claims of abuse in the modeling industry, promoted Mooney’s post and published several anonymous descriptions of alleged encounters with Wang, including accusations of sexual assault and druggings. These stories have since been picked up by global media outlets including People, The Daily Mail and The New York Times.
BoF spoke with five men who described encounters with Wang. While some were seemingly able to corroborate their stories with eyewitness accounts, all except Mooney requested anonymity. The incidents followed a similar storyline: most allegedly took place at clubs or afterparties, and were fueled by drugs and alcohol. Some claimed Wang, whose brand has long been associated with nightlife and fun-loving partying, had drugged them.
Mooney accused Wang of touching and groping his crotch at a club called Slake during Holy Mountain, a popular event in the gay/clubbing community in New York produced by the performer Ladyfag. He said that he originally had no intention of naming Wang in the TikTok post, but did so when he was made aware of other allegations.
“Over the several years since it happened, I have never kept what happened to me a secret. I have always been very open and vocal to friends and family about it. Most of my close ones know this is something that happened to me,” Mooney said in an email. “I was sickened and shocked I was not the only victim of his behaviour. So, I felt it was necessary to stand with these people and say his name out loud.”
After Shit Model Management’s posts, Diet Prada, an Instagram fashion watchdog account with 2.4 million followers began publishing allegations as well. Then bigger media outlets, including The Daily Mail, The Guardian and New York Post, followed. In The Guardian, Gia Garrison, a trans model, claimed that Wang tried to pull down her underwear and expose her genitals at a Holy Mountain party in February 2017.
“It was just another night and then I remember being introduced to Alexander Wang and then chatting to him,” she said. “I just remember dancing around and he was chilling with his posse and then reached for my bikini bottoms I was wearing and tried to tug them downwards.”
On Thursday, Wang sent the following statement to BoF: “Over the last few days, I have been on the receiving end of baseless and grotesquely false accusations. These claims have been wrongfully amplified by social media accounts infamous for posting defamatory material from undisclosed and/or anonymous sources with zero evidence or any fact checking whatsoever. Seeing these lies about me being perpetuated as truths has been infuriating. I have never engaged in the atrocious behavior described and would never conduct myself in the manner that’s been alleged. I intend to get to the bottom of this and hold accountable whoever is responsible for originating these claims and viciously spreading them online.”
Neither Mooney — nor the four other men with whom BoF spoke — have taken legal action.
“I am hoping that he acknowledges his actions,” said one Wang accuser, who claimed he was sexually assaulted in 2013 and wished to remain anonymous for now because of the emotional damage going public online might bring. “I’d like an apology, and I’m not looking for anything more than that.”
The impact these allegations have will depend largely on whether more accusers go public, and whether they are able to provide evidence to support their claims. Mooney has set a precedent, but legal recourse will be difficult, especially if these men don’t have a way to prove what happened, or if they don’t have the financial means to obtain legal representation.
“People are afraid, they’re scared for their livelihood, they’re scared for their personal safety,” said Dr. Jennifer Drobac, a professor at Indiana University ‘s Robert H. McKinney School of Law. For instance, women who have accused President Donald Trump of sexual assault have been vilified by some media outlets, verbally attacked online and sometimes threatened physically or with lawsuits. Psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when he was nominated to the US Supreme Court, has received death threats. Both men denied any wrongdoing.
While social media has made it easier for victims to share anonymous stories, prosecuting such perpetrators or suing them in civil court remains a challenge.
“One of the reasons they may not come forward is because they can’t,” Drobac said. “Many lawyers won’t take a case if there’s no reliable estimate for return on efforts.”
“Why don’t we do something about it?” Drobac added. “The answer is, people want leaders, innovators and creators and they’re willing to put up with the dark side of these people in order to get the positive.”
Some prominent figures who have been accused of sexual assault and denied the claims, like Harvey Weinstein, have been run out of their industries, or even gone to jail. Others, including photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber, who have denied accusations of sexual assault, lost work but remain active, albeit in a more low key way. But Alexander Wang’s situation is unique in that he leads a brand and a business that bears his name, and that brand has now been affected by global coverage of the allegations.
Even if the allegations remain unproven, Wang may need to spend time recalibrating his brand positioning and overhauling his party-boy image if he is to save his business’ reputation from further damage. In the past week, the company has shut comments off on its Instagram account, which lost over 25,000 followers between December 18 and December 29, according to tracking firm Ninjalitics. Another tracking firm, Social Blade, posted similar results.
Wang, who founded his label in 2005, designing Helmut Lang-inspired clothes made for club kids, built his brand on a night-owl image, hosting larger-than-life fashion week afterparties where musical guests including Cardi B and Lil’ Wayne performed. One year, he threw a carnival in an abandoned gas station. Another, he took over a Hooters.
Wang’s celebrity and industry accolades kept building. In 2008, he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and was named womenswear designer of the year just a year later. He also launched a spinoff t-shirt line, T, that became a hit with retailers.
By 2012, he was named creative director of Kering-owned label Balenciaga, previously led by critically acclaimed designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, where he remained for three years. Following his exit from Balenciaga, Wang once again focused solely on his namesake business, which had grown to more than $100 million a year in sales, according to reports. He sought to raise capital to open more stores, with a focus on the direct-to-consumer channel.
Through it all, the brand continued to target young people. Wang maintained his image as a fun-loving party boy as he competed with streetwear labels including Off-White that were now driving the fashion conversation. On social media, the company even started using the hashtag #Wangover, posting guides to events that followers should attend in order to “chill” after a night of presumed debauchery, as well as tips for recovery, such as taking two milk thistle pills before drinking: “It lessens the pain the next day.”
Fashion embraced the characterisation. In a May 2016 Vanity Fair video, Derek Blasberg, a writer and current head of fashion and beauty partnerships at Youtube, and the musician Florence Welch mention that Wang’s “party trick” is to hand someone a glass of what they think is water, but is actually straight vodka. At the 2019 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards, which took place in November of that year, editor Anna Wintour even mentioned the designer’s proclivity to late nights fondly in her speech as he sat in the audience, surrounded by friends.
Fashion industry insiders have generally remained silent regarding the allegations against Wang. BoF reached out to four of Wang’s top retailers in the US for a comment — Nordstorm, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Webster and Shopbop — regarding the allegations, and to ask whether they planned on continuing to sell the brand’s wares in their stores. Nordstrom declined to comment, the other three did not respond to the request by the time of publishing.
The Model Alliance, a non-profit organisation that advocates to protect those working in the trade, released a statement on Instagram in support of the accusers prior to Wang issuing his denial.
“Alexander Wang is an alleged sexual predator, many male models and trans models have come out and spoken about the alleged sexual abuse that Alexander Wang has inflicted upon them,” it said. “It is important to show your support to these victims by unfollowing Alexander Wang and boycotting his clothing line.”