Matthew Williams Discusses Alyx, His ‘Life’s Work

January 25, 2021
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Matthew Williams with looks from his Alyx Men’s Fall 2021 collection.

“It still gets my full attention,” said the designer, who is also creative director of Givenchy.

When Matthew Williams was named creative director of Givenchy last June, his workload more than doubled and he had to ready his debut for the storied French house in less than 100 days, with pre-fall collections and his runway debut looming right after. Plus there were campaigns to shoot, interviews to do, seamstresses to bond with.

And so what of the 1017 Alyx 9SM label that propelled him to fashion stardom?

“It still gets my full attention,” said Williams, calling in from Milan over Zoom from the brand’s fall 2021 look book shoot. “It’s a life project, and it’s so personal. It’s named after my daughter.”

Six years after he established the label and became a key ringleader of the burgeoning luxury streetwear scene, Williams has decided to do coed shows for Givenchy during the women’s fashion week in Paris, giving 1017 Alyx 9SM the spotlight during the men’s shows in the French capital. He is to release imagery of the collection on Jan. 23 during this all-digital week.

“With both of them [Givenchy and Alyx], I just want to push things as far as possible,” he said.

Williams, 35, now splits his time between Givenchy in Paris and Alyx in Milan, while constantly staying in touch with his right-hand man and the teams at both brands, connecting via phone and WhatsApp groups.

“So we really have a great system in place,” Williams enthused, stripping off his black face mask in the vast Superstudio Più and settling down for the interview. “And because Alyx is really about evolution, not revolution, we’re really working on a lot of the same silhouettes, the same materials.”

Given the pandemic, he decided to make the fall collections a lot smaller. “I wouldn’t say we’re doing less, but it’s very, very focused,” he said. “There’s a lot of codes and silhouettes that are really defined.”

He continues to believe in easy, generous shapes, and added lots of knitwear and shearling for next season. Many footwear styles slip on on for additional ease of dressing, including a foam shoe made of a mono-polymer.

Williams is particularly proud of the latter item, a feat for a small independent brand with a tight network of suppliers, and an emblem of his fascination with modern craftsmanship.

No ups and downs for his signature rollercoaster buckle: This hero piece of hardware powers numerous products at Alyx, including belts, jewelry, shoes and backpacks.

“I found it at Six Flags Magic Mountain when I was on a ride, and I re-appropriated it. It was there from the very first season and it was my very first post on Instagram,” he recalled.

Williams even invented a version of the buckle for Dior Men, and he continues to collaborate with Nike and Moncler, further fanning the fame of the Alyx brand, and his own reputation as a lightning rod of cool.

Jewelry, bags with hardware, shoes, tailoring and outerwear are also strong categories for the brand, he noted.

The designer established Alxy in 2015 as a 50-50 partnership with streetwear guru Luca Benini of Slam Jam, and for the last three years Massimo Braglia has acted as chief executive officer, leaving Williams largely free to focus on creative matters. While he admits Alyx doesn’t have anywhere near the means and know-how of a storied couture maison like Givenchy, he relishes the challenge of innovating on a smaller scale.

“I think also working within those constraints is really freeing at Alyx, because I think it allows us to be more creative and do really unique products with the tools that we have at our disposal,” he explained.

One challenge is to make “exciting accessories” without reaching the prices of a luxury house.

Although launched as a women’s brand, men’s and women’s today carry about equal weight, with clothing and accessories split roughly 55/45. The label is sold in just under 200 wholesale doors plus its own e-commerce site.

Williams said he would love to open a freestanding boutique one day for Alyx, most likely in Milan. “That’s always been an ambition of mine,” he said.

According to Braglia, Alyx doubled its direct-to-consumer sales last year and the pure digital channel now represents about 15 percent of the business.

He declined to give precise figures, but said 2020 revenues were in line with 2019, despite the pandemic, and “equally balanced between North America, Europe and Asia.”

“We aim to grow within our actual partners instead of expanding the customer base,” Braglia said. “However, as a next step we would like to further expand in the Chinese market, which is still far underdeveloped for us in comparison with the level of brand awareness amongst Chinese consumers.”

Meanwhile, Williams takes the long-term view, noting that Giorgio Armani established his brand in his 40s and remains independent some 46 years later, meaning Williams can foresee a 50th anniversary for Alyx one day.

“My ambition is just to have Alyx be this free creative outlet, for me and for others that I collaborate with. And for it to be something that’s really exciting and relevant and a reflection of now,” he said. “The main goal is just to continue doing it, and have it last for decades.”

Born in Chicago and raised amid the vibrant skate culture in Pismo Beach, Calif., Williams is a self-taught designer. He started his career in fashion production, made a name for himself working as creative director for Lady Gaga and counts Kanye West and Kim Jones as his professional godfathers.

Conceived as a brand tuned into cultural undercurrents such as Berlin’s techno scene, Alyx made its runway debut at Paris Fashion Week with a coed show in June 2018. It has an industrial-tinged, utilitarian allure and is carried by such marquee retailers as Ssense, 10 Corso Como, Dover Street Market, Joyce, Galeries Lafayette, Browns, Nordstrom and Selfridges.

Before launching Alyx, Williams cofounded men’s streetwear brand Been Trill in collaboration with Heron Preston, Virgil Abloh, Justin Saunders and YWP. As for the moniker 1017 Alyx 9SM, the numbers reference the designer’s birth date and an abbreviation of the brand’s first studio on Saint Mark’s Place in New York City.

While he is eager to share images of the fall collections by Latvian photographer Ilya Lipkin, Williams is also yearning for the return of runways during fashion week.

“We’re looking forward to being able to show again. Yeah, I do miss doing the Alyx show. It’s fun,” he said.

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