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This past weekend, Teen Vogue's sixth annual Fashion University filled the Hudson Theater with eager Tavi-sized fashion minions there to soak up the knowledge of industry vets. Among the famed design names were Proenza Schouler, Jason Wu, Peter Som and Michael Kors. We dropped in on one of the youngest and most decorated designers—Alexander Wang—to glean the golden nuggets of his success.
1a. Drop Out of School
Just Kidding! Alex left Parsons before graduating, but when prodded on this point, he was visibly uncomfortable suggesting the dropout route to a theater full of kids with a median age of 17ish. Teen Vogue editor and moderator of the talk, Amy Astley, jumped in and threw down stats about the rarity of Alex's success. Maybe consider skipping this step.
1b. Get a Whole Big Bunch of Internships.
Alex did four in addition to work and school. Among them were Teen Vogue, Derek Lam, and Marc Jacobs.
2. Curb the Sass at Said Internship(s)
An openness to different learning experiences is, for Alex, essential. One of the perks of an internship is its ability to teach you the stuff you can't learn in school, so move around the company to get a feel for all aspects of the business. At Marc Jacobs, Alex contributed to both production and design two weeks before a show. His jobs included picking up and delivering fabrics and organizing shoes and sewing on buttons. Odd jobs are the bread and butter of internships. Eat it up.
(FYI: In the event that you land a spot within Alex's company, remember that when hiring from his bevy of interns, he prefers a person with a point of view and the openness to share it. An automatic no-go is the intern who expresses the work is beneath them.)
3. Focus, Focus, Focus
Alex's shtick was originally knitwear; yours may be shoes. Or just moonshoes. Or just hot pink moonshoes with mid-90s decals. Regardless of what you focus on, make sure it's something you do well, that has a fresh viewpoint, and that resonates with the customer (will somebody please make neon moonshoes hot again? Please?).
4. Understanding the Customer Happens While Taking Inventory
As a designer who's acutely attuned to fashion-as-a-business, Alex's advice often catered to the un-sexy production, branding, and analyzing customer purchases. He strives to remain very aware of what is selling at a piece-by-piece level in order to take his business in a direction that his customers will appreciate.
5. Have a Good Camera Phone On Your Next Trip to Home Depot
Although many designers look to exotic destination vacations for their inspiration needs, Alex prefers a sneakier kind of inspiration that happens on, say, trips to home improvement superstores. Rather than seeking out a muse, he subscribes to a general openness to idea flow—a quality that probably renders his interpretation of "the street" so spot-on and relevant, season after season.
There you have it: industry tips straight from the mouth of one the biz's most successful designers/entrepreneurs. If you're in need of some inspiration (or something to wear while getting inspired), head to Alex's Soho flagship. Now go forth and design.—Kenzie Bryant
· All Alexander Wang Coverage [Racked NY]