“Maybe we should start in the hardware area,” Matthew Williams said as he greeted visitors to the showroom unveiling of his first collection for Givenchy, the most-anticipated debut of the Paris season. Front and center were piles of hefty G-logo chains, hulking padlock pendants and gleaming gold sunglasses that Williams folded and tucked into his inside suit pocket.
Famous for his roller-coaster buckle and the industrial-tinged cool of his 1017 Alyx 19SM label, Williams incorporated metal into many looks: paving a partially shredded jeans jacket with sharp, silvery scales; studding tulle columns with dangling beads that clanged as the model walked, and fastening a men’s coat with an elongated padlock shackle sheared at a sharp angle. Indeed, the ginormous locks slung on oversize Antigona bags make Phoebe Philo’s Paddington bag of yore for Chloé look like training wheels for what Williams is forging.
The 34-year-old American designer has only been at Givenchy for 90 days, but has already delivered a steely new code to the house that Hubert built — while also referencing a sweep of its history after a trawl through the archives. A simple, red knit trouser outfit, a porthole punctuating the back of the top, was a nod to the aristocratic chic of the founder, while the wicked shoes with curved horns for heels referenced Alexander McQueen’s brief and tumultuous stint. Williams was most familiar with the Riccardo Tisci era, sharing with the Italian designer a circle of famous friends headlined by Kanye West, and enjoying a similar rabid following among the streetwear crowd.
This was a solid debut for Williams, who avoided making any big declarations for Givenchy beyond inclusivity and letting his graphic tailoring announce sleek, sharp and modern as the house’s new fashion territory. This was also reflected in the showroom’s white walls, lacquered cement floors, steel cube furniture and the icy electronica leaking from the speakers.
Discovering the collection on rails and shelves, as if in a store, revealed that Williams cares a lot about hanger appeal and is a product guy, pointing to the Marshmallow platform slides made of injected foam, the industrial zippers arching over one thigh on men’s pants or as pockets on a cool hoodie, and explaining the new configurations — soft, shrunken, zipper-less — of the Antigona bag.
Wearing a black suit from the collection, he unbuttoned the jacket to better show off its boxy cut. “So it can be worn with jeans or a T-shirt. I think the idea of versatile dressing is really relevant,” he said.
About that hanger appeal, one’s eye — and hand — was drawn to a gossamer white coat flecked with transparent tinsel, and also to jeans and jeans jackets in unusual colors, and with a crackled surface resembling soil in a drought.
“It’s triple-baked denim,” said Williams, a California native who started his career in jeanswear. “It’s resin and paint. It was really nice getting to go back to my roots and pushing it really far.”