In April 2013, Prue McCallum, a recent Fashion Institute of Technology grad, ended up at the first of what would become one of New York’s most combustible Berlin-inspired raves. “Shade” was thrown by the nightlife impresarios Ladyfag and Seva Granik, whose parties brought together glittery club kids, serious techno heads, shirtless Chelsea twunks, and black-clad fashion-industry strivers. The 23-year-old had RSVP’d to a Facebook invitation with the location “TBA Day of Show” that led hundreds of people to a giant warehouse in East Williamsburg with red and blue lasers, neon lights, and glow-in-the-dark drinks. McCallum, who at the time identified as a cisgender gay man but now identifies as nonbinary, showed up ready to lose themselves in a set. They didn’t expect to brush shoulders with Alexander Wang.
Their meeting was accidental. McCallum had been on a mission to find a straight guy for their female friend and was quizzing strangers about which way they swung. On the dark dance floor, it was harder to make out exactly whom they were approaching. McCallum was starstruck — and slightly embarrassed — when they spun around to ask “Are you gay or straight?” and came face-to-face with one of their fashion idols. McCallum was obsessed with Balenciaga, where Wang was then the creative director. From what McCallum could see, Wang looked amused. “I’m straight,” he said cheekily — he isn’t — to which McCallum laughed and said, “So am I.” Then the playful banter took a turn. Wang said, “Let’s find out,” according to McCallum, and reached down their pants and groped McCallum’s genitals.
McCallum at first froze and then started to move away, too stunned to say anything. They didn’t tell their friend — the two weren’t very close, and wouldn’t it be easier to just forget about the incident and move on? For the rest of the night, they danced at the back of the room to avoid Wang. A few hours later, McCallum felt a hand on their shoulder and turned around to see the designer. “I like the way you dance,” McCallum remembers Wang, now “slower and sloppier,” saying as he reached out his arms toward them. Before he could touch them again, Wang’s friend pulled him away.
McCallum tried to shrug off the incident. A few days later, they told their best friend what had happened. “They were still very freaked out,” says McCallum’s friend, who also works in fashion. “They were trying to laugh it off but were clearly not okay.”
McCallum suppressed any uncomfortable feelings that might jeopardize their career. In fashion, as in many creative fields, the lines between work and play often blur; being part of the right nightlife scene means access to the right connections, and plenty of fashion stars have been born on the dance floor. For young people in search of a big break, running into a major designer at a club could feel like an opportunity that shouldn’t be squandered.
For Wang, life, or the version of it he marketed to great success, was a party. The Wang look was cool, casual, and club-ready, a wardrobe for his friends and himself to wear to work all day and play all night. From independent beginnings, the designer had reached hundreds of millions of dollars in global sales and then was courted by, and eventually worked with, everyone from Balenciaga and Bulgari in fashion’s upper echelons to H&M, Uniqlo, and Adidas at the street level. Through it all, Wang was his own best advertisement, a smile plastered on his face as he bounded down the runway, a drink raised in his hand from behind the stanchions of the VIP section, surrounded by models and Miley.
But in December, allegations of sexual assault suddenly threw on the lights. In a video posted to TikTok, a male model named Owen Mooney accused Wang of groping him at a Ladyfag party in 2017. A Facebook post from Gia Garison, a trans model, resurfaced in which she says the next month, at the same venue, Wang tried to “pull my panties down and expose my genitals in the VIP area.” More voices began joining the chorus, first anonymously on the @ShitModelMgmt and @Diet_Prada Instagram accounts, then, slowly, on the record to The Guardian, The Business of Fashion, the New York Times, and the Daily Mail. In January, high-profile civil-rights attorney Lisa Bloom announced she was representing two of Wang’s accusers; that number has since grown to 11.
Meanwhile, Wang has gone on the offensive, dismissing the allegations as “baseless and grotesquely false,” adding that they “have been wrongly amplified by social-media accounts infamous for posting defamatory material from undisclosed and/or anonymous sources with zero evidence or any fact-checking whatsoever.” After a seven-week pause, his brand has started to post on Instagram again, though sources say he has been avoiding the office in recent weeks.
Wang, 37, has not been charged with any crime, and Bloom has not yet filed suit. But New York spoke with seven people whose allegations range from groping on the dance floor to unwanted oral sex in clubs and corroborated their accounts through contemporaneous disclosures to friends and loved ones, text messages, photographs, and receipts from events.
Through his attorney, Wang declined to comment on all but one of these stories. The allegations, the earliest dating to 2010 and the most recent to 2019, are set against the backdrop of club culture and queer parties, where such incidents are often dismissed — in many cases by survivors themselves — as the price of partying at all.
So far, many of Wang’s most visible celebrity friends, including Zoë Kravitz, Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner, have stayed silent; a few, like Kylie Jenner, Nicki Minaj, and Ashley Graham, have unfollowed him on Instagram. (Supporters are choosing their words carefully. Kravitz changed the caption of a photo she posted of herself with the designer from “happy birthday you absolute trouble maker” to “happy birthday @alexwangny” after the allegations spread widely online.) No major retailers have commented or taken action.
Wang has long been both a rare model of independent success in a grinding, financially perilous industry — even rarer as a young gay man of color — and a party boy. At one point, according to a former employee, he coined “The company where it pays to party” as a kind of motto for his label and printed it on morale-boosting merch. Now he and his company will discover exactly how much it costs them.
Born in San Francisco to Taiwanese immigrant parents, Wang went through the private Drew School before coming to New York to attend Parsons for fashion design. After two years, he dropped out to get to work. He started his label in 2005 as a capsule collection of six sweaters that he showed to wholesale buyers out of his apartment as his friends sat around eating pizza. By 2007, he had a full collection: stretched-out T-shirts and leather biker pants, party dresses and bra tops. Early critics weren’t sure what to make of it. “The clothes had a street currency but not much of a designer vision,” the New York Times sniffed.
That critique seemed to miss the point. Enthusiasm and speed defined him: At a time when the playfulness of early-’90s fashion had given way to something more cerebral, Wang was a giddy explosion, and shoppers and editors returned his enthusiasm in kind. He scooped up industry awards by the handful, and the business grew; by 2010, he was reported to be doing $25 million a year in sales.
Wang’s raucous reputation was soon a matter of public record. To those in fashion, his name suggested the after-party as much as the runway. His postshow ragers were the most sought-after invites of Fashion Week. He took over a gas station and allowed partygoers to help themselves to its candy-bar spoils; he staged a massive carnival with bumper cars and a merry-go-round and Jell-O shots; he took over the Pier 17 mall at the South Street Seaport just before its razing and booked Minaj to perform. “Other designers who designed cool clothes and had model friends seemed a little bit stiffer, a little bit more self-conscious,” says Darrell Hartman, a reporter who covered the party circuit at the time and attended several of Wang’s parties. “If any designer was willing to let loose at his own party, especially in the later hours, he was that designer. I think that was part of his genius — he was living the life, and he had these beautiful model friends who actually were friends of his. It didn’t feel like a marketing line item.”
Wang’s calling card was the party bus on which he’d ferry his crew around town, whether to his own events or to outer-borough raves. For one fashion show in 2017, he packed a bus full of models and had it driven from Nolita to Bushwick. For an ad campaign shot by Steven Klein a few years before, models lounged in its headachy neon glow.
Celebrities, models, friends, and the anointed piled in — “On this alexander wang party bus w like 30 drunk models somewhere in Harlem,” Diplo tweeted mid-ride in 2014 — with Wang as the ringmaster and social secretary. “You were going all night if you got on the bus,” says a former employee, who, like many current and former Wang associates interviewed for this story, asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. “The bus would only stop if he said it was stopping or we were going to a nightclub that his assistant had arranged.”
Wang could often be found in the VIP section with big bottles of Grey Goose at the ready and a group of friends-slash-collaborators — like the interior designer Ryan Korban, who designed his stores, showroom, and home, and the creative director Daniel Packar, who has been a close friend since they met as freshmen at Parsons — in perpetual tow. Packar says Wang had created the image of a party lifestyle as part of the ethos of his brand, but the group lived it, too. A typical night, at least in the old days, might involve drinks at a friend’s house, multiple clubs, and a party in Brooklyn. Packar says he never saw anything at the clubs he would characterize as crossing the line. “Alex is not the type of guy that would go up to somebody if he thought they were cute or in a flirtatious way,” he says, though friends might invite cute guys over to their table. “They want to have the designer night out with Alexander Wang. I think that’s where things get a little misconstrued and where the situation gets kind of escalated.” (“They want to go out and have fun,” he clarifies the next day, “but are often disappointed when the party ends.”)
“He was always that guy you wanted at the party,” says Travis Bass, whose events at Madame Wong, Red Egg, and Mehanata Wang attended. Packar says there was nothing unusual in the way Wang and his set partied. “We go out, we drink, we dance, we get sweaty. Like anyone else who goes to a club,” he says. But even some of Wang’s famous friends described an enthusiasm that could be pushy. In a 2016 video interview with Vanity Fair, the singer Florence Welch recounted what she called Wang’s “favorite trick” of giving people who were drunk glasses of “water” that in reality were straight vodka. (In her telling, he did it to her at the Met Gala.) “People would say, ‘Don’t drink anything off his table,’ you know?” says a producer who has worked in fashion for years.
Those antics could make the line between a good time and abuse harder to discern. In 2019, Keaton Bullen, then a 20-year-old fashion student at Parsons, was invited to sit at Wang’s table after introducing himself to the designer at the midtown lounge Fishbowl. “My friend and I were like, ‘Oh hell yeah,’ ” he remembers. “We were just being annoying, clout-hungry little kids.” Wang ordered multiple bottles of Tito’s vodka, which he began pouring down Bullen’s and his friend’s throats. Bullen was thrilled to be partying with a fashion icon he admired but was struck by the sheer volume of booze. “It wasn’t a shot,” he says. “More like a gulp-gulp-gulp type of vibe.”
“I was not going to say no, because it’s Alexander Wang,” says Bullen’s friend. “I thought, He’s so cool.”
When Wang pressured Bullen to take more than a few swigs, Bullen says he asked to pump the brakes — he’d already had way more than usual — and got up to dance while his friend stayed at the table. But Wang followed him. As they were dancing, Bullen says, Wang unzipped his pants, reached into his underwear, and groped his penis. He remembers the designer whispering in his ear, “I want to take you home.”
Bullen was used to guys grinding up against him or even grabbing his ass at gay clubs, but this crossed even that generous line.
He walked away, and, soon after, his friend became sick from drinking too much and they cabbed home. The next morning, they laughed off what he thought was a strange encounter at the time. (Paul Tweed, a lawyer for Wang, has said that CCTV footage from the night “will totally disprove this allegation.” New York reviewed a Snapchat post Bullen made right after the incident that read, “alexander wang had his hand in my pants.”) His friend who was with him that night says that Bullen began taking the incident more seriously once others posted similar experiences online last December and that he was infuriated by Wang’s denial of the other accusers’ stories. She says, “He was like, ‘If this happened to me, how many other people has it happened to?’ ”
Whispers about Wang’s behavior have trailed him in the fashion industry for years, usually passed along with an eye roll or a shrug. They didn’t seem, in isolation, that serious. Even those on the receiving end might have been inclined not to press the matter too far, the trauma of being forever associated with Wang in the public record and the deathless scroll of Google searches worse than the experience itself. That was true for Luke, one of several men who agreed to speak on the condition that we not use his real name.
When he and a friend met Wang at a party during New York Fashion Week in September 2010, they were dazzled. “He was like the god of New York fashion, especially to two Parsons students,” his friend says.
So when a friend of Wang’s tapped Luke on the shoulder on the dance floor and brought him over to meet the designer, Luke went eagerly; he had the chance to meet a celebrity and to avoid being carded by the bartender. But while chatting with Wang, he was sure he saw the friend put something from his pocket into a drink he was mixing for him. Luke refused it, hoping not to make a big scene, and they poured it out in front of him as if it were all a joke. He tried to play off the awkwardness of the moment. “I just sort of tried to save face,” he says. “I didn’t want to come across as a loser, because it was Alexander Wang and I was a 20-year-old fashion student.” He excused himself shortly thereafter and returned to his friends. Later, he says, Wang and the friend returned to the dance floor and, under the guise of dancing with him, the designer reached into his pants and underwear and grabbed his genitals. Luke’s friend confirmed that she saw Wang and another man she didn’t recognize “being physical” with Luke.
When they left, Luke told her Wang had groped him. For her, “it was disillusioning,” she says, but for Luke, it was all too common. “Honestly, I was used to people touching me because I’m a gay man,” he says. “I’m not saying that that’s okay. But it’s just, like, something that happens.” He mostly put it out of his mind, though he discussed it with his roommate a few years later, that person confirmed. When the accusations against Wang began piling up this winter, however, his experience seemed like part of a larger pattern.
“Everyone sort of knew that he gets fucked up and gets people around him fucked up,” says Hugo, who works in fashion, of Wang. “I mean, he’s all about having fun, fun, fun, but then he pushes it too far sometimes — so far [that] another person sort of has to pay a price for it.”
Hugo has been clubbing multiple times with the designer and, up until recently, thought of what had happened between them one night in 2013 as another debaucherous anecdote. After drinking too much and taking MDMA during a Fashion Week party in Paris, the 21-year-old blacked out. The next morning, he called a friend who had been at the party with him. He was frantic, she confirms, telling her that “he woke up in Alexander Wang’s hotel room,” that his phone battery was at one percent, and that he had lost his bag and the key to the apartment he was staying in.
At the time, she wasn’t overly alarmed. Hugo was partying a lot in those days. He made it home eventually, and the memory receded. Privately, he blamed himself for blacking out. Occasionally, he would have quick, jarring flashbacks: coming to consciousness in a bed while Wang performed oral sex on him, or images of the two of them having sex. Last year, he shared these memories with his boyfriend, who told Hugo it didn’t sound as if he had been sober enough to consent to sex. After Hugo saw other men post similar stories online in December, he started to reconsider the experience. (Hugo’s boyfriend confirmed the details of this conversation. In a letter, Wang attorney Eric M. George wrote that Hugo’s claim was “impossible” and that publishing it amounts to “nothing less than ignorant and homophobic zeal to smear my client.”)
Looking back, Hugo remembered earlier red flags. In 2015, he went to a party for the opening of Wang’s London store, where he says Wang poured vodka straight from the bottle into his mouth — and into the mouths of other young men. Hugo felt an uncomfortable shock of recognition. “It made me feel sick to my stomach,” he says. “It was sort of a game he had.”
Employees and collaborators saw a different Wang during the daylight hours, especially those who had joined the company more recently. In the years since his meteoric rise, he had taken on increased responsibilities. In 2012, he was named creative director of Balenciaga, which he designed in addition to his namesake line, and he spent three years living between hotels in France and at home in New York. The workload and isolation slowed him down a bit. “I have no social life in Paris,” he told the Times. “I don’t know anyone I feel comfortable enough to have dinner with. But in a way it helps balance me out. On Sundays when I am there and I have no one to call and nothing is open, I just walk around and it forces me to spend time in my head.”
When Wang left Balenciaga in 2015, his own label was no longer a start-up; by the end of 2016, it was reportedly bringing in more than $150 million in sales. (The company, which is privately held, does not report these numbers publicly.) Management seemed to be an issue; a succession of CEOs had cycled through. Wang himself assumed that role for a year, a stint that was short-lived. Some people who had been with Wang early on lamented an increasingly corporate culture. That culture, though, helped pump out an enormous quantity of products for Wang’s men’s and women’s collections.
“It was not a lighthearted party environment even slightly,” says one designer who consulted for the brand for a couple of seasons. Wang pushed his team punishingly hard, but he too “would be there every morning. He was there to work.” (Even if, another former employee notes, “he looks like he just walked in from wherever he was” the night before.)
The company remained successful — it was among the top sellers at Barneys, for example, before the store declared bankruptcy in 2019 — but the bloom had faded a bit. New designers were emerging to nip at Wang’s heels, a change he couldn’t help but notice. “I think a lot of the new vanguard of designers kind of intimidated him,” one executive says. “He would never say it. They were getting the same sort of success, the same sort of creative-directorship roles that he was once getting. They were the names.”
As Wang aged into his career, some of his oldest friends got married and had kids. He, meanwhile, was never known to have a serious boyfriend or partner. He was no longer the enfant terrible but a mid-career designer, even if he still went out nearly as much and with much the same fervor as he’d always had. His circle began to tighten, and some friends, unable to keep up, drifted away. “I can’t keep partying night after night after night,” says one, a stylist from Wang’s native San Francisco, who adds that she never witnessed any nonconsensual behavior. “The bars close at 2 a.m., and he wants to press on and go to the after-party.”
Around 2018, the allegations against Wang began cropping up on social media. These stories, however, proved easy to ignore or dismiss. For one thing, they were often anonymous or secondhand. Since many of the alleged assaults took place after-hours in clubs, rather than on set or in exchange for work, they could be downplayed as drunken party antics. In a few cases, the accusers even continued to see the designer, making excuses for his behavior or blaming themselves.
James did just that. He met Wang during Fashion Week in February 2019 after walking into the West Village club Up & Down just as the designer and his party bus arrived. When Wang beckoned the 18-year-old over to his table, James was flattered. Like Bullen, he was a fashion student at Parsons and admired the industry icon who had dropped out of the same school. As with the others, after a few seconds of small talk, Wang reached down James’s pants and groped his genitals. James was so shocked he froze. None of the designer’s friends seemed surprised, if they noticed at all.
Wang then grabbed James’s phone, texted himself, and a few weeks later invited the student over after they met up at a party. “Come here alone,” he texted, along with an invitation to a friend’s birthday at a midtown hotel. James went, feeling excited by the attention. When he showed up, he says, the lights were off in Wang’s bedroom and another man was there — a detail he had not been forewarned of. James was uncomfortable but also felt pressure to stay and impress the designer, and the three men hooked up.
Wang and James met up again the following month at a midtown club. Shortly after he arrived at Wang’s table, he says, the designer unzipped James’s pants without asking and started to perform oral sex while crouching down. He wasn’t aroused and thought others might be able to see what was happening. Once again, he froze. Wang stopped when a security guard shone a light in their direction. James told himself this behavior was a normal part of queer club culture and felt ashamed that he hadn’t been “excited and hard” and went on to see the designer two more times. A friend of James’s remembers that at first he was flattered to be hanging out with Wang but quickly became uneasy about their encounters, all of which he told her about. Another friend says he spoke of the experiences with resignation, as if they were “a part of the fashion business.”
“It felt like there was an underlying contract,” James says now. “I was getting the opportunity to hang out with him, and I sort of owed him something.”
Wang has already tried to discredit some of his accusers. When the Times published an allegation from David Casavant, a stylist and archivist, that Wang had exposed Casavant’s genitals in a Brooklyn club in 2017, Wang’s lawyers responded by claiming that Casavant had accused Wang of “ruining Balenciaga,” implying an “irrefutable yearslong personal animus.” (Through his attorneys, Casavant denied ever saying that.)* When the Daily Mail ran the account of a 23-year-old male model named Nick who continued to see Wang socially after the designer had allegedly abused him, Wang’s representatives provided text messages that indicated ongoing contact after the incident. (It’s common for people to stay in touch after being abused, especially when there’s a power imbalance involved, for reasons that include fear of retaliation, denial, and self-blame.) Garison, the trans model who says she was exposed by Wang in 2017, explains that the experience was particularly disturbing because she and many trans women already struggle with feelings of shame. “I’m not as comfortable with the body parts that I have,” she says, “and I don’t always want to show off what’s below the belt. It’s very sensitive.” (On Instagram in 2019, former Wang collaborator Azealia Banks shared allegations of Wang’s misconduct from additional, anonymous trans women.)
In queer spaces in particular, where sexual freedom is sometimes equated with independence, rebellion, or a hard-won right, sex can be part of the point of a night out, and the lines of license and consent can become clouded. Many of the individuals who came forward with allegations about Wang acknowledged that, in queer nightlife, behavior like his was not entirely out of the ordinary. In many cases, they had turned the incidents into jokes, funny stories, celebrity anecdotes. And yet, to a person, each said what they had experienced with Wang was more aggressive than any touch or flirtation they had otherwise encountered in clubs. “In my three years in New York — or before, anywhere — I’ve never had someone be as pushy,” says Eric, who met Wang at the queer party “Papi Juice” in the spring of 2018. Wang bought him a drink and, after chatting for a bit, kissed him and, despite Eric’s protests that he had a boyfriend and in full view of the entire bar, put his hands down Eric’s pants and groped him. When Eric told him in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t go home with him, Wang stormed off. “I’ve never had anyone reach their hands down my pants, ever,” Eric says.
It’s difficult to say what consequences Wang will face, if any. Since the flurry of accusations began at the end of last year, the fashion world — including the people whose livelihoods depend on Wang and the companies that profit from selling his clothes — has been quietly waiting. Generally speaking, the industry has been slow to condemn its own who are accused of being predators. After more than 20 male models accused the photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino of sexual misconduct in 2018, Condé Nast stopped working with both of them and their reputations and careers suffered. (Both men denied the allegations.) But memories are short, and both are slowly, quietly beginning to pick up work again. Guess founder Paul Marciano was recently sued for sexual harassment but is still the brand’s chief creative officer. “The fashion industry thinks that it’s sort of immune to the Me Too movement because there’s a certain sexual vibe that runs through it,” says Lisa Bloom, who has represented clients in suits against Weber and Marciano. “The law applies to them just like every other industry.”
It remains to be seen whether the accusations will curb Wang’s partying, though some influential people in nightlife predict he will become persona non grata on the New York club scene. (“Alex’s party days are done,” one says.) The statements Wang has released through his attorneys and on social media don’t suggest much introspection on the subject. For now, anyway, the pandemic has put a damper on much (though not all) of New York’s nightlife. This pause gives partygoers the time to reflect on, and in some cases reevaluate, their experiences in the clubs.
For a long time, McCallum minimized their experience with Wang. After the groping, they tried to push what had happened to the far corners of their mind and even interviewed for a job at Wang’s company in 2014. Their repression turned to anger as they watched the allegations — and Wang’s attacks on his accusers’ credibility — pile up. “It has affected me more than I initially realized,” they say. “It’s hard not to get really emotional about.” For McCallum, justice isn’t about suing the designer or seeing him behind bars. What they want is an apology or an acknowledgment of what happened. After Wang continued to smear these accounts as “false” and “fabricated,” there was no more staying quiet. “He’s calling me a liar,” says McCallum. “I just feel like he’s dangerous. And I just want him to stop.”
*This story has been updated to include comment from David Casavant.
*This article appears in the March 1, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!