Tired Of Power Abuse In Fashion? #UsToo
The allegations against Alexander Wang, and his response’s impact on the industry.
( @alexwangny / Instagram )
[ Trigger Warning: The following article contains notions of sexual assault. If you or someone else you know needs help, please dial 911 or contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 ]
Alexander Wang was an underdog. The street-savvy creator faced critics at every step of his journey. Starting as an unknown, anonymous designer, to the recipient of some of the industry’s most prestigious awards, to creative director at Balenciaga and, finally, as the face of an eponymous empire.
It’s certainly subversive to see his situation, as he finds himself swarmed with sexual assault allegations become representative of greater problems concerning power imbalance within the world of fashion.
The floodgates opened when model and graphic designer Owen Mooney posted a TikTok detailing his weirdest public experience with a celebrity.
“I guess being sexually assaulted by one counts, right?”
Mooney described how, in 2017, he and his mates went to watch the rapper CupcakKe at a club in New York City. Separated from his friends in the mayhem of the packed venue, Mooney found himself next to a guy who took advantage of his isolation. The stranger began touching him up, from his leg to his crotch. Paralyzed, all Mooney could do was look up. It was then that he saw the face of the famous designer who he chose to leave anonymous in this video.
Mooney said he thought the best thing to do was not to mention any names. It wasn’t until a commenter correctly guessed his alleged offender that Mooney outed Alexander Wang as a sexual predator in a follow-up post.
“It’s just really fucked up that people with this type of status, they think that their power, like, gives them this type of pass to be able to do this to people,” Mooney said in the TikTok. “But it’s so wrong.”
Despite its detractors, Mooney’s statement picked up steam as others came out sharing similar experiences with Wang. Before long, major media outlets caught wind of the claims, which were amplified on Instagram accounts like Diet Prada and Shit Model Management.
Mooney started a movement — Wang responded.
"Over the last few days, I have been on the receiving end of baseless and grotesquely false accusations,” Wang said in his statement. “These claims have been wrongfully amplified by social media accounts infamous for posting defamatory material from undisclosed and/or anonymous sources with zero evidence or any fact checking whatsoever.”
Looking past the tone (so cold, not even Gucci x North Face could save you), it’s worth noting that, for all the potential personal biases of these “infamous” watchdogs, calling out runway copycats isn’t exactly equivalent to giving alleged victims of sexual assault a platform.
The outcry against Wang was presented with enough independent incidents to alarm and concern anyone — including several claims that he gave out “Molly water,” or water with ecstasy dissolved in it, without the recipients’ consent. That’s paired with his partier reputation and apparent affinity for giving his friends vodka and telling them it’s water. Per Florence Welch, it’s his “favorite trick.”
“Seeing these lies about me being perpetuated as truths has been infuriating,” Wang continued. “I have never engaged in the atrocious behavior described and would never conduct myself in the manner that’s been alleged."
In a memo sent to his staff shortly before he posted a version of the statement to his Instagram, Wang shared the same sentiment and expressed gratitude to staff and support.
"You are my community, my priority and I am fully aware that the recent news has also affected you,” Wang wrote in the memo.
He acknowledged his wild social life but maintained that he has never taken advantage of others sexually or abused his status. With a promise “to remain honest and transparent,” it’s debatably better than the one he shared publicly to 436,000 followers.
Defenders of Wang’s main statement will say his reputation is at stake. But, is it? Haven’t we been here before?
Ah, 2017. A time full of big sleeves, zipper jeans and when Harry Styles was only runner-up for GQ’s Most Stylish Man of the Year, bested by the dapper Tom Hiddleston. Things were different — unless you were alleging unsolicited sexual experiences involving Alexander Wang, like Nick Ward was.
That year — the same in which Mooney’s post refers to — Ward created a Twitter thread claiming Wang grabbed his penis as he walked by him at a concert in Brooklyn.
And… that was it. Had Mooney’s TikToks not gained traction, it probably would’ve stayed that way. But, with a new wave of support, Ward elaborated on the alleged incident.
Only a month after Ward posted his thread and in the heat of the #MeToo movement, model and Model Mafia co-founder Cameron Russell consolidated testimonies of sexual abuse in modeling on her Instagram page. Over 75 models — many teenagers — detailed sexual harassment, rape and everything in between. Under the banner #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse, it was a commendable effort in exposing the grime beneath fashion’s glitz and glam.
Two years later, rapper Azealia Banks, who was once the face of an Alexander Wang campaign, posted anonymous messages from her DMs to her Instagram story. Now preserved in a Twitter time capsule, they graphically described and accused Wang of sexual assault and rape.
Back to the 2021 hellscape, and Mooney’s movement is somewhat similar to Russell’s. It even harbors its own hashtag, #UsToo, a callback to the perceived effectiveness of its predecessor in toppling entertainment’s abusive giants. Yes, stories like those from Ward and Banks managed to resurface. But how celebratory can we stay if people have to keep citing the same concerns?
While efforts like Model Alliance’s statement of solidarity are progressive, they also acknowledge that #UsToo is bigger than Wang no matter how the situation plays out. A common thread between Wang’s group of accusers is that it seems to be largely made up of male, queer and/or transgender people. Mooney drew attention to this when he launched #UsToo.
“Does the ideology that we are not victims of sexual assault exist?” Mooney asked in an Instagram post. “Does the ideology that we are not victims of sexual assault exist? What would the response be if a world renowned fashion designer was drugging and sexually assaulting cis women?”
When looking at the fashion industry’s history of power and model abuse, Alexander Wang’s recent response can be taken — as Highsnobiety pointed out — as distancing, self-victimizing and threatening.
Wang and his gang of quiet blue check marks — or his complicit celebrity acquaintances, as Mooney calls them — may want to reflect on how they’ve handled the situation. Models’ careers shouldn’t be at stake for demanding decency in the workplace.
When silence is broken, it shouldn’t be resealable.
AJ Bafer is a contributing writer at Rowdy Magazine.