Until recently, Mr. Wang’s identity as Chinese American was rarely mentioned. He ignored attempts by reporters and critics to connect his designs with his identity as a child of Taiwanese immigrants, even as he was frequently compared to Asian American peers like Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung, who have long described their ethnic backgrounds as a relevant to their design choices.
Even so, Mr. Wang’s background has been well documented. His parents are first-generation immigrants and ran a successful manufacturing business in San Francisco. His friends, along with his clientele, were “It” girls, models, former boarding-school rich kids and the ethnically diverse, largely queer community of party people who wanted their clothes to express the simple fact that they were out last night.
Mr. Wang’s laser focus paid off. Sales reached more than $100 million at one point, according to Business of Fashion.
But the brand began to lose relevance soon afterward. In 2019, Mr. Wang attempted a rebrand for the label that included a new logo and a commitment to telling his American story through a first-generation immigrant’s lens, which was inspired by what his parents had only recently told him about what it was like to come to America in the 1970s.
“I had never asked them before,” Mr. Wang, who was 35 at the time, told The New York Times in 2018.
But among the Asian American attendees, many chalked up the late-blooming consciousness to more personal reasons: “There was a lot of people in our community that did not want to associate themselves too much with the Asian experience,” said May Lee, 56, who is involved in a variety of local AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) organizations and attended the event to show support to Asian American designers. “Don’t make noise, don’t make waves, fit in.”
“I don’t want to blame Alexander Wang, but I think he is an example of that type of Asian going through that type of experience,” she continued. “I say better late than never.”