Back in 2005, aged only 21, Chinese-American fashion designer Alexander Wang launched his eponymous label, subsequently earning him the title of “wunderkind” by industry experts Business of Fashion (BoF). Unfortunately for the publication’s credibility, as well as Wang’s numerous alleged victims, this praise has not aged well.
From Wang’s groundbreaking debut and the overwhelming praise he received throughout his career all the way down to the horrific sweatshop allegations and accusations of sexual assault, here’s everything you need to know about one of the fashion industry’s greatest’s fall from grace, and his eventual absolution.
Following the launch of his brand, wiz-kid Wang gained some recognition within the fashion industry after being bestowed with the iconic CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2008, an award which granted him $20,000 to expand his business. From there, things only got crazier for the young designer.
Replacing the notorious French-Belgian Nicolas Ghesquière as Balenciaga’s creative director in 2012, Wang oversaw the luxury household’s women’s and men’s ready-to-wear as well as its incredibly successful accessories lines—back then, the City bag was the bag to rule them all.
Despite the initial hype surrounding Wang’s new position however, it didn’t take long for Kering (aka the multinational corporation specialising in luxury goods that owns Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, and many more) to issue a statement announcing that Wang was leaving Balenciaga by mutual consent. That was in July 2015.
Shortly after in 2016, Wang became the CEO and chairman of his brand, succeeding his mother, Ying Wang, and sister-in-law, Aimee Wang. Later that same year, he was awarded $90 million in damages after successfully suing over 45 defendants operating 459 websites that sold counterfeit goods bearing the brand name.
Though the move made sense at the time and Wang was widely acclaimed for his uncompromising approach to tackling counterfeit goods, the irony of this situation should also be highlighted. Back in February 2012, a lawsuit was filed against Wang, claiming that his company violated New York state labour laws, and that employees were being seriously mistreated.
Involving 31 plaintiffs, the case sought $50 million in damages for each of nine charges, adding up to a total of $450 million. One of the workers brave enough to speak out, Wenyu Lu, claimed that he was “hospitalised for several days after he passed out at his workstation because he was forced to work 25 hours straight without a break,” as reported by The Cut.
Lu also claimed that the tiny office on Broadway in which he was stuck slaving away in (quite literally) was windowless and poorly ventilated, and that workers were being forced to work 16 hours or more without paid overtime or breaks.
His lawyer claimed that Lu was eventually fired due to complaints about working conditions and applying for workers’ compensation. A second plaintiff, Flor Duante, also stated that she was fired after filing for workers’ compensation, and that she had worked 90-hour weeks at Wang’s factory.
Though it was then reported that the lawsuit had been dismissed by the likes of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), with a spokesman for Wang stating: “We are gratified that this matter has been dismissed, as the allegations were unfounded and completely false,” it was reported that both parties had agreed to a settlement with undisclosed terms. In other words, hush money.
Like with countless other individuals in the limelight however, these first few stains to Wang’s name didn’t alter the fashion designer’s impressive harem of celebrities.
From Pamela Anderson, The Weeknd, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky to Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Hailey Bieber, Bella Hadid, Zoë Kravitz, and many, many more, Wang is probably one of the most well-connected fashion designers out there. And it’s not only work-related partnerships that we’re talking about here—most of the names listed above are actually considered close personal friends of the 39-year-old.
On 29 December 2020, fashion industry whistleblower Instagram account @DietPrada, along with modelling watchdog account Shit Model Management, published posts compiling accusations made on various social media platforms (including TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram) by users who claimed Wang had sexually assaulted them at some point in the past.
Scrutiny only ensued further when model Owen Mooney came forward to speak out about an alleged 2017 incident where he said that Wang groped him in a packed New York nightclub. Mooney’s story was later reposted by Shit Model Management, leading others to come forward with similar accusations.
The posts amplified previous allegations from others such as New York-based DJ Nick Ward, who also publicly accused Wang of groping him in a nightclub in 2017. Some claimed to have witnessed a victim being drugged by the designer, or being slipped ecstasy or other drugs themselves without their knowledge. There were also repeated allegations of victims, including several trans women, being groped or having their bodies or genitals exposed by Wang.
Two days after the accusations started flooding social media platforms, Wang’s representatives released a statement to various media outlets in which the fashion designer denied all accusations of sexual assault and instead added that he intended to “hold accountable whoever is responsible for originating these claims and viciously spreading them online.”
The next day, on 1 January 2021, The Guardian published other alleged accounts of sexual assault incidents from others, including transgender model and actor Gia Garison. On 4 January, Wang issued an updated statement thanking those who had stood by him, while also assuring that he would “remain honest and transparent” throughout the investigation into the claims.
That very same day, it was reported that American attorney Lisa Bloom—known for advising Harvey Weinstein amid various sexual abuse allegations, as well as for representing women whose sexual harassment claims precipitated the firing of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News—would represent alleged victims of Wang.
More than two months later, however, Wang changed his tune, instead promising that he would “do better” going forward and expressing regret, though without offering an outright apology, of course. Representing 11 of the accusers who had come forward against Wang, Bloom revealed that her clients had met with the fashion designer only days before his Instagram post and that they had “[spoken] their truth to him and expressed their pain and hurt.”
She went on to add that her group “acknowledged Mr Wang’s apology” and “are moving forward.” When asked about any arrangement, financial or otherwise, that came from the meeting, Bloom declined to comment.
After laying low for a couple of years, and focusing on his brand’s booming growth in China, Wang made his official return to the runway during this year’s New York Fashion Week, which took place between 10 and 15 February.
His first show back in the city that never sleeps was billed as the fashion designer’s “romantic return” by BoF—had you not been aware of what had been going on before then, you’d never known his brand was tarnished just two years earlier.
The dreaded question of whether the fashion scene would show up for the disgraced designer was clearly answered. The 150-person audience was packed and filled with most of New York’s fashion elite. Anna Wintour was spotted. Julia Fox walked the runway. And celebrities like Nikita Dragun and Ava Max were in the crowd.
Though many were quick to criticise Wang’s return on social media, when it came to the world of the rich and famous, it seemed that no one batted an eye. Kylie Jenner is currently featured all over the designer’s Instagram account for his label. Pictured wearing the brand’s new Spring 2023 collection, Jenner not only models Wang’s clothes, but she goes as far as to promote them in a video specially made for his eponymous brand.
From recently posting a branded TikTok video featuring con artist and fraudster Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, flashing her ankle monitor to having Vogue proclaim that the designer “still has a handle on what the kids want,” one thing is evident. Alexander Wang is cool again.
Like so many other youngsters who grew up in the 2000s, I had a deep affinity with TV shows that romanticised living in New York. I devoured any series I could get my hands on where the protagonists would be dating everyone, drinking martinis, and living the life of a raucous 25-year-old who, despite having no stable income, still managed to lead an exhilarating and fulfilling life. Oh, and if there was an anonymous online tipster who acted as the local gossip and tortured the lives of the Manhattan elite, that was also a plus.
Sex and the City and Gossip Girl aside, being a young girl who treasured female friendship above all else, one of my absolute favourite shows was Girls, a raunchy and objectively funny series which showcased a group of friends navigating city life and dismantling the patriarchy as they went.
Of course, as the years have gone by, my love for the show has morphed more into a feeling of nostalgia and gratefulness for what it taught me, while also acknowledging its serious flaws. And, at the helm of this project which I once held so close, was actress, writer and director Lena Dunham.
Once considered a radical feminist, paving the way for women in the film and TV industry, Dunham’s reputation has since worsened considerably. As the world woke up to the problems surrounding Girls, it also woke up to the serious issues regarding its creator. Let’s unpack some of the most significant controversies connected to Dunham.
When it was first released, Girls was championed for holding up a lens to the female experience—something that had been seriously missing from American TV. However, it only captured one specific experience, that of inherently privileged white women.
There is something to be said about the fact that Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath was in a way highly transformative for the TV industry, due to the fact that she didn’t fit the toxic stereotypical western ideal of beauty.
Of course, that in itself was a highly problematic aspect of the Girls script, as Hannah’s attractiveness was painted as unconventional and it was sold as though her personality was the reason men were interested in her, rather than her looks. I could go on and on about how truly unsavoury it was to see characters such as Hannah or Bridget Jones depicted as ‘bigger girls’ when they were not, but that’s for another day.
Dunham was required to address the lack of diversity in Girls over the years. For example, in 2016 the actress went on the radio show The Breakfast Club and, after being questioned on the matter, stated that all of the criticism surrounding the omittance of people of colour from the show was “valid” and that while she was hoping to “write from a place of accuracy and passion and understanding,” she acknowledged her ignorance of women of colour’s stories and struggles.
Dunham continued: “It’s not one-size-fits-all, and there are issues that women of colour deal with that white women have no idea. White feminists do not have a great history of carrying their black sisters along with them.”
It should be noted that, while it’s important that she recognised her role in dismissing the perspectives of black and brown women, her acceptance and admission of this wrongdoing came only after people called her out on it and demanded she address the situation. This has been a running theme throughout all of Dunham’s controversies.
Dunham also faced serious criticism after she published an open letter in conversation with Amy Schumer about how she believed football player Odell Beckham Jr. had behaved misogynistically towards her at the 2016 Met Gala, despite him never speaking to her. Later on, she apologised to the athlete, stating that it was her own insecurities that made her believe he was acting dismissive towards her and clarifying that he’d not made any derogatory comments towards her.
A number of publications responded to her accusation in kind, with the Huffington Post running a feature titled: The Way Lena Dunham Talks About Black Men is Peak White Entitlement.
In November 2017, The Guardian published the article: Is Lena Dunham’s ‘hipster racism’ just old-fashioned prejudice? The piece was geared towards exploring Dunham’s particular strain of racism, one that is very closely linked to young white middle to upper class liberals who live in New York and operate within certain artistic circles.
Popularised by writer Carmen Van Kerckhove in 2007, ‘hipster racism’ perfectly summarised Dunham’s public persona. Deeply embedded within popular culture, this form of so-called ‘covert racism’ permeates every facet of society and ensures that white women remain the dominant voice of authority when it comes to feminism and female empowerment.
Due to an assumed academic prowess, Dunham, and other creatives who sit in the same industry, feel as though they’re more clued into the struggles and perspectives of people of colour. And rather than take time to actually recognise their own privilege and learn from past mistakes, they bulldoze on—assured by society that they won’t become outcasts.
There’s been a consistent pattern with Dunham’s behaviour over the last decade or so, and it speaks to her dangerously casual attitude towards dropping bombs, and then apologising solely when people call her out for the damage she’s already caused.
Another serious issue regarding Dunham’s problematic feminism rests with her attitudes towards sexual assault. In November 2017, it was reported that actress Aurora Perrineau had filed sexual assault charges against former Girls writer Murray Miller, saying that he had raped her in 2012, when she was only 17 years old.
Shortly after, Dunham—along with one of the Girls showrunners—released a statement defending Miller. They wrote: “During the windfall of deeply necessary accusations over the last few months in Hollywood, we have been thrilled to see so many women’s voices heard and dark experiences in this industry justified. It’s a hugely important time of change and, like every feminist in Hollywood and beyond, we celebrate. But during every time of change there are also incidences of the culture, in its enthusiasm and zeal, taking down the wrong targets.”
The statement continued: “We believe, having worked closely with him for more than half a decade, that this is the case with Murray Miller. While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the three percent of assault cases that are misreported every year. It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed. We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue.”
Netizens immediately took to Twitter to share their upset and hurt that someone who ‘prides’ themselves as such a prolific feminist would go out of their way to state that a potential victim of sexual assault was lying. One user shared: “Lena Dunham thinks women should speak up about sexual assault unless it’s someone she’s close to. Only then are we taking down the wrong targets.”
We can assume this tweet was in relation to a post from Dunham herself from only three months prior: “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape.”
Once again, the actress swiftly revoked her thoughts on the matter after she received heavy backlash, releasing a statement apologising for any hurt she may have caused and noting that it was completely inappropriate of her to suggest that Perrineau was lying.
Oh, and in classic Dunham style, the problems don’t stop here. The actress and writer has also made a number of highly insensitive comments about abortion. In 2016, during an episode of her podcast Women of the Hour, Dunham told an anecdote about how when she visited a Planned Parenthood years ago, a girl asked her if she would share her own abortion story. “I sort of jumped. ‘I haven’t had an abortion,’ I told her,” she stated.
Dunham continued, explaining how it was a “moment of self-realisation” because it suddenly occurred to her that she had internalised some of the stigma that surrounds abortion. “Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman’s right to choose, felt that it was important that people know that I was unblemished in this department. Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had,” the Girls creator concluded.
Journalist and activist Rosa A. Clemente tweeted in response: “Lena Dunham, having an abortion is not a trend, women who choose this path don’t think it is cute, your whiteness and privilege reeks.”
Dunham’s excessive flippancy—particularly when it comes to topics someone as educated as she should be far more literate on—has become a serious issue. And it’s blatantly clear that, despite all these red flags, Dunham’s career could not be going any better. She spearheaded two feature films in 2022 (Catherine Called Birdy and Sharp Stick) and continues to hold a prominent role in the directorial and acting space. So, while boomers may continue to die on the hill that is ‘cancel culture’, Dunham is a perfect example of how controversial creators are the most resilient breed out there.