Brand Focus: 1017 ALYX 9SM
Matthew M Williams always seems to be working in secrecy. Whether it’s him limiting the number of interview runs for an Alyx-related release or carefully wording his answers.
Williams understands the process of generating hype to a tee. His persona and renaissance-man level of creative variance always seems to invoke an air of mystery. So much so, that it has created an undeniable level of cult-like interest, not only in his independent project, 1017 Alyx 9SM, but in his own personal brand.
This wide interest has captivated the hearts of a younger fan base – a group of consumers who is projected to make up at least half of the sales of all luxury consumption by 2025.
Between designing clothing and curating the megalithic personas of Lady Gaga and Kanye West, it is easy to see where Williams developed his uncanny eye for what is relevant, ephemeral, and most of all, the most impactful representation of “the now.” Graduating from a class of streetwear dissenters with Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston, and Kim Jones in attendance, it only seems fitting that Williams, among his contemporaries, would carve out his own individual path to success. Most within the group have been vocal about debasing limiting notions of streetwear, which are typically used to exclude designers who marry “high” and “low” bases of inspiration.
Streetwear is a very loaded term, Williams said onstage at BoF’s VOICES in November. I’m interested in modern craft. As designers, we need to be proposing what the future could look like. I see myself as a bridge for kids who are into T-shirts and sneakers, but through Alyx they can find out about tailoring or leather pieces.
Williams sees a future where the exclusivity of high fashion can be opened up to wider audiences that include the youth, who like him, probably discovered designer fashion through their favourite music artists. In the age of mass connectivity, Williams recognizes that many of his fans, who show intense interest in Alyx, have become that overly knowledgeable kid at the record store; a far cry from the time of his own upbringing, when conversations around luxury fashion were few and far in between.
Perhaps the loudest, and most gregarious co-sign (Playboi Carti and Drake notwithstanding), recently came from Givenchy, after they publicly announced that Williams would be taking the helm from former lead designer, Clare Wight.
Givenchy clearly believes in the notion that Williams has the ears and likely the pockets of the youth within visible reach. His forward approach to tailoring and minimal style presents an area of potential improvement for Givenchy, as it has increased the marketability of 1017 Alyx 9SM, and the persona of Williams that persists over several overlapping cultural spheres. Matthew has also displayed a penchant for creating relevant and accessible ready-to-wear lines; a missing piece in Clair Wight’s impressive repertoire of haute couture looks.
I believe [Williams'] singular vision of modernity will be a great opportunity for Givenchy to write its new chapter with strength and success, said Sidney Toledano, chairman and Chief Executive of LVMH's Fashion Group, in a statement.
Williams is slated to present his first collection from the LVMH owned label in October. But what of 1017 Alyx 9SM? News around his personal label outside of seasonal collections is usually limited to the few times where Williams sits down for an interview. 1017 Alyx 9SM is easily Williams’ most-visible hidden jewel – a medium of full expression, where his personal life and present self can be conveyed with cut patterns, rather than cutting commentary.
This project is so personal… All my past work had been about collaboration and uplifting other people’s ideas which I love doing… but it’s quite intuitive with Alyx – I’m not so calculated about that stuff. The music stuff seems like a distant dream in the past… said Williams in a 2019 interview with British GQ.
Despite having no formal design education, Williams has continued to emphasize the secondary nature of the music industry, in the wake of his relatively new role as high fashion designer. For him, authenticity of expression comes through garment design, and though the music industry provided a glitzy backdrop to apply his creative vision, it never fully reflected his true interests.
I worked in fashion before music and I never really wanted to work in music, he explains. It had not been a goal of mine, but I was happy to work in it. I just took what I had learned from fashion and applied it. Although I was still really out of place in that music mix – really, I always wanted to be a designer.
1017 Alyx 9SM, formerly named Alyx first started as a womenswear label back in 2015. After two years, a men’s line was added to the roster, exploding its popularity, in and out of fashion. Named after Matthew’s eldest daughter, the independent label closely follows his personal life and values, while exploring shifting notions of what it means to make clothes today.
For Williams, this translates to sustainability and making replaceable garments like t-shirts and socks much less expensive. The label uses regenerated cotton and plastics, creating a zero-water production process that eliminates excess resource use. 1017 Alyx 9SM even explored notions of consumer transparency, with a line that used blockchain technology to make the process of production visible, from raw material sourcing, all the way up to the finished product. Research has always been an integral part of the brand’s identity.
Fabric research is a huge part of my process. My team and I spend a lot of time researching and working with new materials. We’ve worked with an array of sustainable materials, including Econyl nylons, ECCO Leather, upcycled cotton and recycled denim, as well as unique materials like Dyneema (which is considered to be the strongest fibre in the world) ripstop, carbon fibre, pony hair, Tyvek and many more. We attend fabric fairs, innovation summits and spend a lot of time researching online.
Williams has kept relatively quiet about the specific details surrounding the upcoming 1017 Alyx 9SM release for AW20. Information has been limited to a handful of backstage comments from the man himself and brief video coverage from January’s showing.
The label’s AW20 Paris showing in January was a rhinestone studded callback to his own grandmother’s style, which he noted deeply influenced this latest series of looks. Pale yellow denim jackets provided a nostalgic spin on old western favourites, elevated with curving patterns of shimmering crystals that were also donned on matching trousers, raincoats, and soft leather boots.
Voluminous parkas were carried in accessory laden style over minimal evening dresses with studded, single shoulder necks and chain details. Militaristic spectator coats, overalls and pullover parkas were fitted with contrast utility zippers and olive fabric.
Embellishments were subdued in calculated Alyx style, with leathers and wool finishes being reworked with pock-marked patterns, bright palettes and fuzzy lofts. Ultra-precise tailoring was maintained in this display of evening glamour, that somehow combined the mood of a classy dinner party with cold-weather sleekness.
His popular, highly tailored black outerwear also reappeared towards the tail end of show, but with much less representation than in previous collections. Zippered hems and standout hardware took a back seat to vibrant textile choices, translucent materials and boxy shoulder bags. Even his wife Jennifer made a runway cameo towards the end of the show, solidifying the mysterious bridge that connects 1017 Alyx 9SM with Williams’personal life.
It seems like Williams’ best kept secret has more and more to share. Pieces from AW20 are increasingly expressive – tastefully evolved from his usual monochromatic aesthetic that held a greater spotlight in earlier collections. Diversifying your output has become more important in a market as contentious as the sphere of luxury fashion, but Williams is no stranger to adaptability.
We recently spoke with him this year about his mindset going into the pandemic situation, and what the diverted calendar really meant for luxury apparel. At the time, many labels were frantically scrambling for a way to stay afloat.
RG: …Do you think [the pandemic] has changed a lot in terms of planning, for yourself and 1017 ALYX 9SM? As designers, you guys are usually a year ahead, in terms of when products land in stores. Has that changed much for you creatively?
MW: Yeah! We had already briefed the whole collection that we were going to show in June. We were just waiting for the prototypes to come in. Now we’re waiting for Italian companies to reopen up so that our suppliers can start working on the pieces that we designed. I think we’re going to split the collection between June and September and make them two small collections. Creatively speaking, I’m still staying connected with the whole team via Zoom and having great discussions with other friends and creatives that I have relationships with. That’s really keeping me inspired.
This optimistic outlook has led Williams towards a slew of enviable collaborations this year – most notably with Moncler Genius , Stussy, Mackintosh and Bang & Olufsen, who’s Beoplay headphones made several low-profile appearances during the show. Not to mention his ongoing partnership with Nike and more under-the-radar work with post-anarchist Japanese punk label, Blackmeans. Williams is homing in on a spirit of collaboration we’ve seen (not surprisingly) rise up amidst the financial rubble of COVID’s first wave.
I am looking forward to working together with its ateliers and teams, to move it into a new era, based on modernity and inclusivity, Mr. Williams said in a statement. 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 toward positive change.
But this isn’t necessarily a first for Williams. His uplifting influence already had an effect during his glory days in the music industry. His canvas might have changed to luxury design, but his genuine care for fellow creatives and friends in the industry surely hadn’t.
If consistency is the name of the game, then we might see 1017 Alyx 9SM quietly reach their goals of full sustainability in the near future. For now, we still have yet to see the sweeping changes Williams wants to impose on the often-unsustainable fashion world; even though the crest of his wave has invariably spread his name through apparel culture and back towards the realm of music.
Williams is a shining example of official qualifications holding less clout than marketability – especially in an age of the universal record store kid who sees him as an aspirational figure. Maybe that raises the stakes for Williams. Either way, he seems more than willing and fully equipped to quietly take that challenge on.
You can check out the latest 1017 Alyx 9SM styles for SS20 here.