Jess Cartner-Morley, fashion editor
The Guardian, Friday 17 October 2014 18.51 BST
The aesthetic of Alexander Wang’s H&M collection is sophisticated – as emphasised by a mostly monochrome colour palette. Photograph: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Alexander Wang is the envy of the fashion industry for the credibility his name commands from high fashion to street style. It was a point neatly made in February last year, when Wang was namechecked in a Jay Z rap in the Justin Timberlake song Suit & Tie in the same month that he presented his first collection for the historic Paris fashion house of Balenciaga.
Wang is now the latest designer to create an H&M high street collection and at 30 years old becomes the youngest name on a list which boasts Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, Stella McCartney, Lanvin and Isabel Marant.
The Wang X HM collection goes on sale on 6 November and on Friday the fashion press was given a first look.
When H&M announced its latest signing, some wondered whether the Wang look – logo T-shirts and sweatshirts, jogging pants and shorts – was sufficiently different from what H&M already offers to whip up the queue-around-the-block shopping frenzy which the limited-edition narrative demands. The collection proves those doubters wrong, with Wang using his supple approach to create clothes that are both more avant-garde than most recent designer-meets-high-street ranges and more accessibly priced.
Wang X HM is a futuristic hybrid of sportswear and fashion. It is both practical, and extraordinary. There is effective use of a scuba-like neoprene fabric which is slickly practical and gives a bold, shell-like silhouette to hooded coats and to sweatshirts which seems to reference the balloon and cocoon shapes that Cristobal Balenciaga invented to great acclaim in the 1950s.
Foam injections are used to make the Wang name stand out and to give a crocodile-skin effect on sweatshirts.
Wang has said that he wears only sportswear but never does any sport, and these clothes work in both scenarios. A sculpted crop top, which Rihanna has already been photographed wearing with full make-up and high heels, has an internal sports bra which makes it just as suitable for the gym. Unisex pool sliders will work for swimmers, or beach posers. There is a branded yoga mat in a mesh carry-case, but also a pair of stiletto boots which are made up of a scuba sock encased within a shell of lace-up leather.
The aesthetic is sophisticated – a point emphasised by an almost entirely monochrome colour palette – but the key selling points will be the utilitarian features of the clothes, and the price tags. Outerwear has peaked, oversized waterproof hoods, and the mesh running tops are quick-drying. A menswear down jacket comes in ultra-reflective silver and with side ventilation zips. Backpacks come with an internal nylon shower cap to protect their contents.
The technical wizardry makes the price points impressive: most sweatshirts are £34.99 or £39.99, the crop top £29.99. The complex, showpiece coats are around £150, but the range of accessories – including a branded water bottle and a boxing glove keyring, each at £7.99 – give entry-level options. Whereas the first designers who undertook high street collaborations did so while trying to hold the collections at arm’s length, distancing them from their “real” clothes, Wang – who is from a new generation – believes in reaching as wide an audience as possible.
In sharp contrast to his role in Paris, of which Wang has said that he “never forgets the name above the door is Balenciaga”, Wang has used the H&M platform to shout his name from the rooftops. The four capitalised letters of his name are knitted into the range, with the pointelle on mesh cropped tops designed in such a way that the word becomes more distinct when touched by rain or sweat.
Wang, who is already a household name in the US, is using the collaboration as a springboard for global recognition. It was reported on Friday that the first Alexander Wang store in the UK will open in London early next year, with the company having secured a lease on a former post office in Mayfair.
Margareta van den Bosch, who dreamt up the H&M collaborations concept during a long tenure as head of design for H&M and now works as creative adviser to the brand, said the Wang collection broke new ground because “most pieces were developed from scratch, instead of reissuing archive pieces … Alex is one of the most important voices in fashion today … his designs are urban, wearable and covetable, offering a new take on an urban uniform … [he] has an inherent understanding of what people want to wear, and everything he does is with an energy and passion that’s infectious”.
Anyone looking to get hold of those boxing glove keyrings could have a fight on their hands.
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