Alexander Wang ’s three-year stint at Balenciaga is over. He went out dancing, snapping selfies and twirling down the runway. His swan song was the freest of any of the collections he did for the house, and the most tender. All in shades of ivory. All paraded softly out on lace slippers. All in soft, natural fabrics like linen, cotton, and voile with gentle, furling edges. It looked effortless, where the ones that preceded it felt effortful.
Work began on this collection after the announcement was made that Wang and Balenciaga’s parent company Kering would not be renewing his contract. At the time Wang said he’d be refocusing his attentions on his signature label. Maybe that awareness loosened him up. Maybe he really hunkered down, determined to go out on a high note. Whichever, it’s no small irony that his last and best collection for the brand was the one that was truest to his own bred-in-California sensibilities. A remix of The Notorious B.I.G.’s iconic “Going Back to Cali” played on the soundtrack. Bella Heathcote, Riley Keough, and other Hollywood friends of his with “normal”-sized, not overly thin bodies grounded the show in reality. Loungewear was at its soul, with boxer shorts peeking above waistlines and bra tops exposed under quilted jackets.
As relaxed as its vibes were, a good deal of work went into the collection’s smocking, ruching, and ladder stitching, and yet it remained light. “When you know it’s your last anything, you say, ‘Let’s take a risk,’ what do you have to lose?” Wang said backstage. “At a house that’s known for innovation, I thought, ‘Let’s think about it the opposite way, let’s think about fabrics and shapes that feel supple and simple, but approach them in an artisanal, couture way. ”
Following Nicolas Ghesquière, the innovator Wang was referring to, had to be one of the toughest jobs in fashion. As Wang sped back down the runway tonight he nearly tripped over one of the show’s reflecting pools before catching himself and continuing backstage. It was a pointed image. His own show was bigger than ever and one of the highlights of the New York calendar. The question isn’t how Wang will fare now, but how Balenciaga will pick up the momentum again.