What Does it Take to Work for Alexander McQueen?
For Academy of Art University grads Zhangchi Wang and Maria Romero, working for head designer Sarah Burton at the Alexander McQueen headquarters is no longer a beautiful daydream.
When Zhangchi Wang and Maria Romero finished presenting their designs at the Academy of Art University’s 2012 Graduation Fashion Show and Awards Ceremony, they left with much more than a round of applause.
Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen and an AAU Honorary Doctorate recipient, hand-selected the two young talents for a priceless internship. Now, Wang and Romero are preparing to be whisked away to London to work at the McQueen headquarters.
Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen stepped into the head designer position after McQueen’s untimely death. She designed Kate Middleton’s world-famous wedding gown and has kept McQueen’s vision alive through her stunning collections for the label.
Maria Romero and Zhangchi Wang
We sat down with the two new interns to discuss their design inspirations, their meeting with the renowned Burton, and how they feel about scoring a designer’s dream position. Romero created an eerie short film Dulce de Reliquias, where dolls come to life wearing her designs.
Zhangchi Wang designs from her final collection
Betty Confidential: When did you start designing?
Zhangchi Wang: Since I entered the Academy of Art University.
Maria Romero: I started real designing at the Academy of Art; however, I’ve been making doll clothes, Halloween costumes and even drawing ball gowns since I was a little girl!
BC: What were some of your inspirations for the 2012 graduation show collection?
ZW: Chinese stone carving and classic menswear were my inspirations for this collection.
MR: I was inspired by my childhood memories of traditional Mexican candy that is given out during nativity scene ceremonies in Mexico. The colors and textures really excited me and I went from there.
BC: Which materials did you use and why?
ZW: I used a wool knit and a wool coating in two tones of grey to mimic the texture of stone. The theme behind my collection was “a walking statue.”
MR: During my Creative Hand knitting class with Lori Goldman, I was knitting swatches out of materials that were not necessarily yarn. I knitted a swatch made out of strips of tulle and the texture was different and ethereal, so I decided to carry that concept into my senior collection. I also used silk organza because the feel and the look of organza is so smooth and it went really well with my tulle knitting. I decided to put them together in several looks. Other materials I used were pleather, mohair and silk chiffon.
BC: What was the design process like for this collection?
ZW: It was a process full of challenges; every detail needs great attention. I have learned a lot from this process.
MR: The design process was very detailed-oriented. I kept making swatches of prospective fabrics until I knew I had the right one. I made the dolls several times before I came up with the final look, and even story boarding the film was something we discussed as a team many times over until we finalized our ideas.
BC: What was the most difficult part about creating your collection?
ZW: The most difficult part would be transferring my design from 2D into 3D, since this was the first time that I worked with a fitting model and a large amount of fabrics.
MR: The most difficult were really the moments when I felt a lack of energy and it was three in the morning. One time, I was still beading tiny beads on my last miniature gown when the doll’s arm broke and I had no more wire to fix it. And even when I was out of material, I had to improvise to make something out of the only bits I had left. Even though it was tough at times, the feeling of finishing my collection and projecting my vision was stronger than me, so I kept going.
BC: What influence has Alexander McQueen had on your own work or love for design?
ZW: I have always seen his shows as performance art pieces. I hold my breath as soon as the first model comes out until the end. My favorite and the one that I found most inspiring would be his 2009 Fall/ Winter collection. I also love Sarah Burton’s way of executing the designs –they carried on his spirit; however, there’s a hint of femininity.
MR: Alexander McQueen has influenced everything in my career as a fashion designer. When I saw his collection, “Plato’s Atlantis”, I was really impressed. This was a designer who was not afraid to show his vision, to be himself, and who truly made Art. I believe fashion is an Art Form and that’s what I’m always intending to show through my work.
BC: How did you feel when Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen chose you for a London internship?
ZW: I felt truly honored, and very grateful. It is certainly a rare chance, and I feel like I am expecting a lot from myself.
MR: My jaw completely dropped and I went sort of blind. I was really honored and happy she had said my name. My excitement could not have been greater! It didn’t really sink in that I had won that internship until it hit me like a lightning storm a couple of hours later.
BC: Did Sarah Burton give you any advice before the show when she reviewed your portfolio?
ZW: Her manner impressed me; she was very polite. She looked through every page with patience and asked me detailed questions.
MR: Not that I can recall. I was so nervous and so excited she was standing in front of me looking at my portfolio! She was very sweet and professional when she was reviewing my work. We did agree, though, that texture is really important to both of us and she was looking forward to seeing the film. She’s such an inspiration; her work takes me to a beautiful dream world that makes me fall in love with fashion every time.
BC: What are you most looking forward to with this internship?
ZW: I am looking forward to everything about this internship! I can’t wait to work at one of the world’s top high fashion houses and move to London, a city that is full of energy and possibilities.
MR: I’m looking forward to the opportunity of working with Sarah Burton and giving it my very best. I’m really thrilled to learn everything the house of McQueen has to offer.
BC: What do you hope to accomplish during your internship?
ZW: There’s a lot for me to learn, business-wise and creative-wise, and I hope I can learn about the general creative process of a season’s development.
MR: I hope to gain a great deal of experience in the fashion industry as well as the construction of beautiful pieces.
BC: How do you hope this internship will help your career in fashion design?
ZW: I am looking for a career as a fine artist using fashion or fabric as my medium. This internship will be an important life experience for me.
MR: I know the experience I gain will only help me become a better designer. I truly hope I get to stay in this fashion house for a very long time.
Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.