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Senior Designer Alexander Wang: "I am so honoured to work in this area for this brand name"

By Sandra Bódalo Munuera

23 Sept 2015


Out of the 200,000 Spaniards living abroad, according to data published by the National Statistics Institute (INE), 81,030 chose America as their destination. Amongst this huge amount of Spaniards who decided to immigrate is Isabel Río, senior designer at the New York firm, Alexander Wang. During her recent visit to Madrid, Isabel gave a lecture on the ins and outs of the fashion world to students at the University School of Design, Innovation and technology (ESNE). Born in the small village in Corunna, she has already worked for large firms like Pedro del Hierro, Carolina Herrera, Alexander McQueen and Calvin Klein.

In 2013, she was selected along with twelve students from all over the world to complete the prestigious master's degree in Fashion Design and Society at Parsons New School of Design. The post-graduate study opened the doors of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York, where she showed her own collection. Río´s long professional career included working as a stylist for famous people including Madonna on her Rebel Heart Tour and Beyoncé for her latest appearance at the Budweiser Made in America Festival. A clear example of the possibility to triumph in the Big Apple.

In the ESNE master’s class, you said that you would have liked to receive more advice when you started out. What would you have liked to know when you started your professional career?

Personally, I would have liked my professors to have given me more information on the real fashion world and advised me on how important it was to specialise. There is a wide variety of fields in the area of design, which is my speciality, and I think I would have wasted less time if I had been given more information on each one. I would have known what I wanted to specialise in a lot earlier, for example. I would also have liked to have been more aware of the importance of networking. In New York, like other cities, if you send a job offer through a website without previous recommendation, it's as if you don't exist. Whenever you need an old master's degree colleague to tell you when a vacancy appears in the firm they are working for, someone has to remember your work or believe that your profile fits in with a specific brand. This is why it is so important to keep in constant contact because it's what opens doors in the end.

You are now in charge of selecting and searching from materials at Alexander Wang. How did you realise that this was what you really wanted to do?

When I was working for Calvin Klein, Francisco Costa was the person who realised that I was more interested in materials than design. Although I already started to realise that I paid more attention to textiles than silhouettes in the projects I developed for Parsons as well. Sometimes you don't pay sufficient attention to this aspect although it is the basis and raw material for any design. Alexander Wang is a firm that pays considerable attention to searching for and using new cloths, so I am honoured to work in this area for this brand name.

For someone who has shown their own collection in New York, what is it like to work for a brand name that isn't yours?

It's always very difficult. When you have your own personality and particular aesthetics as a designer, it's difficult to know how to adapt to other people's tastes. I have therefore always tried to work for brand names where I knew I could contribute something. Although it has something to do with you, you always lose part of your inner self.

In the lecture, you said that it is a great sacrifice to work in the fashion world. Although you are well paid in the US capital, you spend many hours focused on your work. What is your normal workday like?

When I arrived in New York, I felt dizzy but satisfied at making my dream come true. Everyone in the fashion world knows that they must work very hard but if they do, at least in New York, they will achieve their goals. Many of my designer friends worked as waiters for years before achieving their goals. When you become a designer, you'll be working from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. At least 10 or 11 hours.

Despite his dismissal, Alexander Wang raised Balenciaga sales by 10 procent and its namesake brand has just completed its tenth anniversary. What do you think his secret was for designing a commercial collection that his target audience liked so much?

He invented this type of modern girl from the Soho district in New York. Alexander Wang thinks and clothes his friends and doesn't seek inspiration from past seasons or exotic trips. His inspiration comes from the streets of New York and from how people dress and move. Skaters or hip hop already existed but managing to include sweat shirts, sneakers or caps on a catwalk... That was his invention! He managed to give a new twist to a style that already existed in the city, which makes it so sellable.

You have worked in the major fashion capitals of the world, such as London and New York. What do you believe to be the weak point of Spanish Fashion?

Maybe it's because I've been abroad for such a long time that I don't understand why so little is known about Spanish fashion. In my opinion, Spain might lack innovation and content in its collections. I don't doubt the fact that there are great creators and talents in our country. But as there is nothing that really stands out in their creations, they are not very well-known abroad.

Are people abroad unaware of Spanish fashion?

Yes, people know very little about modern-day Spanish fashion. Professionals know older brands and designers like Cristóbal Balenciaga, for example, but they don't know that Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is now taking place in Madrid. It's a shame.