Matthew M. Williams, Givenchy’s new creative director, is probably the first designer to have completed his contract negotiations with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton over Zoom — and to go topless during his official portrait session, revealing multiple tattoos for Paolo Roversi’s lens.
Williams ended up spending his coronavirus confinement in New York City and Montauk, teleconferencing with — and obviously impressing — Sidney Toledano, president and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group.
“He’s a self-made man in fashion, learning the business at different stages,” Toledano enthused in an exclusive interview on Monday. “He’s got 100 days to prepare his [Givenchy] collection and he starts tomorrow. He’s really passionate about the project.”
The American-born designer behind the 1017 Alyx 9SM label and a key ringleader of the luxury streetwear scene, Williams, 34, becomes the French house’s seventh couturier. Today, he will be introduced to the workers in the atelier at Avenue George V — a storied ritual in French fashion — and he is expected to present his first designs for Givenchy in October.
In a statement shared first with WWD, Williams described the house’s new era as one “based on modernity and inclusivity.”
“In these unprecedented times for the world, I want to send a message of hope, together with my community and colleagues, and intend to contribute towards positive change,” he said, echoing a “voice note” he posted on Givenchy’s Instagram account Monday to unveil his arrival.
He expressed gratitude to Givenchy parent LVMH “for trusting me with the opportunity to fulfill my lifelong dream.”
“The maison’s unique position and timeless aura make it an undeniable icon and I am looking forward to working together with its ateliers and teams,” he added.
Williams assumes all creative responsibilities, including women’s and men’s collections, Givenchy noted.
The house will sit out the next couture week in Paris, scheduled for July 6 to 8, but maintain its couture activity, atelier, savoir-faire and teams, Toledano said. How Williams intends to approach high fashion has yet to be decided, he noted.
Williams led the list of candidates floated by WWD on April 13 when it was the first to report that Clare Waight Keller and Givenchy were ending their three-year collaboration.
His arrival thrusts Givenchy back into the realm of buzz, cool and cultural urgency that it last enjoyed under Riccardo Tisci, who deftly gave the aristocratic brand a subversive edge with his Rottweiler T-shirts, muscular tailoring and Goth-tinged gowns.
While perhaps best known for his roller-coaster buckle and collaborations with Nike, Moncler and Dior, Williams is seen as a driven, versatile fashion talent with a sharp vision, strong cultural and artistic connections, and formidable technical chops.
Toledano touted his expertise working with an array of materials, including leather and metal.
“He’s also concerned by sustainability and he’s concerned by communities, but with a fashion approach,” he said. “He’s pragmatic, but also very inspiring. He’s an entrepreneur.”
The Chicago-born talent, who worked with Kanye West and Lady Gaga earlier in his career, has in recent years been based out of Ferrara, Italy, a key hub for craftsmanship and headquarters for Alyx, founded in 2015. Williams is to relocate to Paris, while maintaining his independently owned brand, and his collaborations. Most recently, he unveiled one with Stüssy.
Williams arrives at Givenchy at a delicate juncture, the coronavirus pandemic having deflated a lengthy luxury boom and jeopardized fashion’s most sacred rituals, particularly the fashion show. While organizers of Paris Fashion Week are hoping to schedule physical shows this fall, several brands are proceeding with alternative formats in anticipation of travel restrictions and continued social-distancing requirements. The format for Williams’ Givenchy debut in October is not yet defined.
Beyond that, his challenge will be to quickly galvanize the house around yet another new aesthetic — and fast. Tenures at heritage brands have been getting shorter, and the current environment seems to favor luxury’s giant players including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior and Gucci, whose scale affords multiple advantages.
While market sources peg Givenchy’s wholesale revenues at north of 1 billion euros, if one includes its fragrance and beauty business, the brand has lagged in leather goods, the linchpin category for Europe’s legacy brands.
“The beauty business is doing extremely well, showing the momentum of the brand,” Toledano told WWD on Monday. “With clear brand positioning, the right product development and the right communications, I see a big potential for the company.”
Renaud de Lesquen, who joined as president and ceo of Givenchy on April 1, also expressed confidence.
“I am convinced that, with his unapologetic approach to design and creativity and in great collaboration with the maison’s exceptional ateliers and teams, Matthew will help Givenchy reach its full potential,” he said.
De Lesquen, who previously spent four years at Dior Americas, is a suave but discreet executive, having served the same amount of time as president of Dior China. Prior to that, he spent 10 years at L’Oréal in Paris, as president and ceo of YSL Beauté, and before that as global president of Giorgio Armani Beauty.
Toledano said de Lesquen’s proven track record in wholesale relations, retail development and beauty marketing would be key assets in driving Givenchy’s business in the years ahead.
The brand counts 102 boutiques in the world, including 29 in China, and last year intensified its e-commerce push with the launch of online sales in the U.S., adding to existing sites in France, the U.K., Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
Toledano has had his eye on Williams since the designer was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers in 2016.
“We have had the pleasure of watching him develop into the great talent he is today,” he said in a statement. “I believe his singular vision of modernity will be a great opportunity for Givenchy to write its new chapter with strength and success.”
During her time at Givenchy, Waight Keller largely plied a tasteful, aristocratic brand of fashion occasionally spiked with toughness or subversion — a touch of latex here, a giant wing-like backpack there. Her biggest claim to fame was dressing Meghan Markle for her marriage to Prince Harry in 2018, and she won more acclaim for her couture than her ready-to-wear displays.
Tisci was arguably the most successful of a string of designers who have led Givenchy following the 1995 retirement of the founder, bringing heat and stability over a 12-year tenure.
John Galliano was Hubert de Givenchy’s immediate successor and moved on quickly to Christian Dior. Lee Alexander McQueen tried his hand next with eclectic collections — space aliens one season, rockabilly the next. Julien Macdonald went back to a style rooted in French elegance and sophistication, but did not win much acclaim.
Toledano noted that Williams expressed interest and enthusiasm in the entire history of Givenchy, founded in 1952.
Williams arrives at the house with a resume steeped in proximity to cutting-edge culture.
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 — the latter actually designed his and his wife Jenny’s wedding outfits. Williams designed a stylized CD buckle for Jones’ debut collection for Dior Men in 2018 that has become a brand signature.
Conceived as a brand tuned into cultural undercurrents such as Berlin’s techno scene, Alyx started in women’s wear and in June 2018 made its runway debut at Paris Fashion Week with a coed show. 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, it bears the name of Williams’ eldest daughter, while 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.
Williams has also been a trailblazer in sustainable practices, employing recycled nylon and other eco-friendly materials and exploring ways to dye with less water and recycle scraps.
He’s also fanatical about modernizing craftsmanship, of which couture represents the pinnacle. In an interview with WWD last year, he said, “How can we use the technology that is available to us with the artisan approach and find a new way to create modern craftsmanship? And so that’s kind of what I am most interested in exploring…because you know that a lot of the traditional luxury has craftsmanship. If you think about Hermès or Chanel, you know, there’s a real language to the craftsmanship and…it’s like what can we do to modernize that? And also when you look to some of those luxury products, even if somebody doesn’t know fashion, they can tell that it’s been touched by hand, or it is very obvious the value in the product, so that’s something that I want to keep exploring.”
According to Givenchy, “Williams advocates authentic values of research, technical innovation and creative repurposing that align perfectly” with its philosophy of “elegant ease.”
“An intuitive understanding of tailoring, technology and integrity in fashion make the designer an ideal steward for carrying the Givenchy legacy forward with modernity and power,” it added.
Awaiting Williams’ debut, the design team has created a men’s collection for spring 2021 and a capsule women’s collection for December delivery. Both will will be sold in Givenchy’s showrooms later this month. The brand is not participating in the digital version of Paris Fashion Week for men’s scheduled for July 9 to 13.
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