Eastside Detroit native (A)lex(Z)ander says he’s always felt the need to create. Now 28, he grew up writing raps, poems, and songs, and for several years he was a fledgling musical artist (and fashion designer) until the frustrations of the music industry deterred him.
“I still had some music in me, but I think my experience of actively pursuing music for so many years in Detroit left me a little bit apathetic,” he admits.
But it was through music that he got his big break. In 2019, at Detroit’s Backwoods & Bonfires music festival, (A)lex(Z)ander happened to meet an aspiring pop star by the name Doja Cat, who struck up a conversation with him because his outfit was similar to the one she wore in the viral video for her track “Mooo!”
“I ended up meeting her because I had on this cow print-type outfit,” he says. “She took a liking to it, we went to the green room, talked for 15-20 minutes.”
(A)lex(Z)ander had always been into making and wearing his own unique fashion statements. His style is the intersection where streetwear, disco, and Jimi Hendrix meet: animal print sweaters, pants with floral designs, and jeans and jackets emblazoned with images of flags, fire, and letters. He decided to design and send another jacket to Doja Cat from a collaboration he worked on with local brand Karoshi United Sportswear. Doja Cat’s star continued to rise, and the singer wound up wearing the jacket in several interviews and even at the BET Awards.
“She wore that shit like it was her child’s macaroni necklace,” he says with a huge laugh.
It was (A)lex(Z)ander’s first big placement — but more importantly, it was a strong nudge from the universe for him to focus on fashion. Shortly after, he went to New York to hold a fashion show, but soon got another idea. “While I was there I met this stylist named Melvin, and he told me to go to L.A. instead of New York,” he says. “He said New York was very prestigious, very large budget, they’re looking for machines out there. But in L.A., it’s much more of a free market.”
Weeks later (A)lex(Z)ander found himself in L.A. As he walked down the famed Melrose Avenue, he was approached by the Colombian band Piso 21. The members spoke little English, but they were able to convey to (A)lex(Z)ander how much they loved his jeans, which he had painted with an orange and yellow flame on the right leg. He gave the lead guitarist El Profe the pants right off his ass, which El Profe wore the very next night during the band’s performance at the 2019 Latin America Billboard Awards.
“I think God is a God that rewards us for being humble,” he says. “I started to realize this was a destiny thing.”
(A)lex(Z)ander made arrangements and left for L.A. immediately. Once there he first found employment in a pizza restaurant and then at a vintage resale shop called Flamingos, where met celebrities like Erykah Badu, Thundercat, Travis Mills, Paul Pierce, and Chase Keith. He also met stylist Vanessa Alonso (known as Van Van), whose clients include Detroit rapper Big Sean, who needed a letterman jacket for a project. Big Sean wore the jacket in ads for Don Julio, and most notably in the visuals for Hit-Boy’s 2020 single, “Salute.”
From there (A)lex(Z)ander immersed himself in L.A.’s fashion culture, making another pair of pants for El Profe, hosting L.A. Fashion Week, leasing gallery space for his designs, and sitting front row at a fashion event with will.i.am.
“For people that want to live in L.A., this is how it is,” he says. “You can literally be at the Grammys one day or the Saint Laurent ball and will have to get up and take yo’ black ass to work in the morning.”
The more events (A)lex(Z)ander attended, the more people wanted to know who he was. “My stock went up,” he says. “People started taking me more seriously than they did before.”
Several days later, while ordering piña coladas from a nearby spot on Melrose, he was once again paid a compliment by a stranger for his self-designed pants. This time the stranger called another man over and told him, “I think this guy will be good for the show.” The show was The Hype, an HBO reality show that sees streetwear and fashion designers compete in a series of challenges. After an extended interview and vetting process, (A)lex(Z)ander was chosen to compete on Season 2, which airs this week.
“I was kind of reluctant at first because I didn’t feel like I was ready,” (A)lex(Z)ander confesses. “It just wasn’t something I was really entertaining.”
Despite his reservations, he accepted the opportunity and says his fashion aptitude and perseverance has grown tremendously since.
“It was a positive experience,” he says. “It was very enriching. It taught me how to handle pressure. A lot of it was less about design but how do you adjust.”
(A)lex(Z)ander is the second Detroiter to be featured on The Hype. Last season designer (and singer) Paije Speights was part of the reality show’s cast. “I actually met her at an afterparty in New York before the producers confirmed I would be on the show,” he says. “She really did her thing, I respect her a lot.”
By contractual agreement (A)lex(Z)ander can’t give away any spoilers, but he did speak to the challenges of working in a reality show environment. “The biggest thing I can say about reality TV is that the cameras are real,” he says. “There were cameras everywhere. You’re mic’d up all day. You gotta get used to functioning in that kind of environment. As a creative I’m very intimate in my creative process. I don’t create in a public space, so I had to get acclimated to creating in front of people.”
(A)lex(Z)ander plans to use the exposure from the show to further his brand, Lab 74 by Alexzander Hershel. But more importantly, he wants to use his career and his story to inspire the next generation of creatives.
“I want to inspire the youth,” he says. “I didn’t have a roadmap for stuff like this when I was young. I didn’t know anyone creative. I want my life to be that roadmap for someone else.”
Season 2 of The Hype airs on Thursday, Sept. 22 on HBO.