Conversations: Matthew Williams of 1017 ALYX 9SM
We recently got on the phone with Matthew Williams to get his take on design and working through the pandemic. Matthew has headed 1017 ALYX 9SM since it’s initial womenswear launch in 2015, a few years before including a men’s line in 2017. The label centers its design around making clothes for the present day; a progressive design ethos with nods to product evolution, modern tailoring and sustainable practice.
When we first drafted the interview questions, we were still unsure if fashion week was still happening. With the recent announcement that it was cancelled, circumstances for many designers, including Williams, have changed.
RG: We read your Vogue interview the other day, which gave us a brief update on your whereabouts. Let’s dive in a little bit deeper if that’s cool.
MW: Yeah totally!
RG: You’ve moved back to New York for the time being?
MW: I can’t go home to Italy right now.
RG: How are things in New York? The numbers are increasing quite drastically, right?
MW: Yeah, I’m outside of New York in Montauk. I’m not trying to look at the news, too much. I think everyone’s getting prepared for the next month.
RG: Right. Do you think this 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.
Fashion, creativity and design is such a big part of my life. I am concentrating on being more present, while I am not traveling and staying inside.
RG: Do you think spatial limitations like indoor confinement have affected how you work? Or are you used to working indoors.
MW: Yeah, I always work indoors but I don’t have my studio. And we’ve never had to make a collection while working remotely. That’s going to be another level if we have to do that next season.
RG: I think it’s interesting right now, as a brand or store going through these times – the language we try to use has changed. We’re more conscious of what we say and how we promote product, because for a lot of people, fashion’s definitely not the first thing on their minds right now. Have your priorities, or even views on fashion changed at all?
MW: It’s interesting, because fashion, creativity and design is such a big part of my life. I am concentrating on being more present, while I am not traveling and staying inside. I’m thinking about how that relates to design and what clothing feels relevant for these times. Especially with the Nike collections. I’ve been doing a lot of online yoga with the family that I’m staying with. That’s been amazing, just to see how people are connected and able to do that in quarantine. It’s nice to see How everyone supports each other by still doing group activities. That’s given me a lot of insight for the Nike training collection that I’m working on right now.
RG: Which has had a lot of success. Do you mind if we ask how that came about?
MW:I guess it’s been almost 4 years now since I started working with Nike. I interviewed several times to work there so that’s how it initially came about.
RG: Right, this was before ALYX?
MW: At the beginning of ALYX actually. I developed relationships over the years with different people that worked at Nike and then eventually they said, “let’s collaborate on a training collection.” The collections have been successful and feels like it has really developed. I’ve become more accustomed to working with the different teams and coming to campus. It’s now become a part of my design process. We have a really great relationship with Nike’s teams and get to build these collections each year which are really inspiring and fun to do.
RG: You guys get to take pretty good trips and get to work out collectively, which is super rad. Has that opened up your inspiration in a way? Do you think differently in how you design for Nike versus your main line?
MW: Yeah totally, because Nike is for sport, you know? All of that stuff has to function. And it’s tested. It’s highly informed. ALYX is not technical in that way. We use technical materials but more in the way of modern craftsmanship. Fashion garments not tested in the way that a yoga pant or a running short. Whereas when we develop Nike collections, we’re putting ourselves in the body of the athlete we’re designing for, whether it’s city training, outdoor training, or yoga.
I think that designers should focus on smaller collections that address a more essential need for dressing, but also for expression.
RG: Since we’re on the subject of production for ALYX— We’ve been working together since the first capsule with Fragment– I know for your first Men’s collection with ALYX Visual you were working with recycled cotton already; on graphic tees, then recycled nylon buckles, and replaceable soles later on. Based on our current circumstances, do you think designers should be approaching design in more essential way for future collections?
MW: No one really knows what the future will hold. In the current circumstances I think that designers should focus on smaller collections that address a more essential need for dressing, but also for expression. When we are putting on a runway show, we want to clothing to paint a full picture and sometimes we produce for repetition and consistency. For instance, we may want 10 of the same pants in the show. Now, with no show for this season, we can focus on producing what is necessary; working with a new grid and creating a procedure and perspective to reinvent our current reality.
RG: From your perspective though– obviously we can’t predict the future. But has this experience made you think of design differently?
MW: It’s still so short, like I said, I haven’t done a collection from scratch while under quarantine. But I’m still looking past this thinking our world will return to a somewhat similar state as it was pre-COVID-19. Some things will inevitably change but I’m not designing as if people are going to be inside all day for the rest of their lives.
RG: Right on. We feel like for us, as we’ve experienced closures in our neighbourhoods; whether it’s restaurants, cafes and places like that, an industry reset might be taking place. But that’s kind of an optimistic view. Do you feel like this is a time where “only the strongest survive?”.
MW: You know, that’s a question we could– we could talk for hours on that.
MW: So much depends on the country that the company’s based in. How much economic support they get for their staff, for their company. It also really depends on where their supply chain is based. Obviously, if you have a company that’s say, based in France, and produces in France, then you’re not dependent on other countries getting back to normal, to start producing and shipping goods again. When you have a split supply chain, all over the world; then it’s a bit more complicated, because you are dependent on what’s happening in other countries. Sometimes being a large company is good in these situations. Sometimes it becomes more difficult. Same with being a small company: there’s not really a black-and-white answer other than it being company dependent… and what kind of support we’re going to be getting from all our nations through this time. Or what kind of support the stores are going to get. Because if the stores go down, it’s just a chain reaction that affects the brands, it affects the PR companies, it affects the magazines. You know what I mean?
RG: Yeah, absolutely.
The Earth is really getting a break......I hope that this allows everybody to be more present in their life.
MW: It’s all connected. I think we are really seeing that more than ever… in how… much of a domino effect this whole thing can create.
RG: What do you think the silver lining for all of this is?
MW: You know, the Earth is really getting a break. I don’t know if this fact is true, but someone was telling me that global emissions are going to be reduced by 10-15%. Imagine this goes on for a year. No one has been able to observe what kind of healing happens to the Earth after a year of no commercial travel until now. I think that’s the positive outcome from this situation. And I hope that this allows everybody to be more present in their life. Everything, at least in my life, has been so… busy and on to the next.
MW: Like, constant movement. This is a much-needed pause for me. Which is really nice, in that respect. Obviously, my heart goes out to all the families and people that have been affected. Whether by actually getting ill or from losing their jobs. I mean this is such a terrible, hard time. But I do try to be optimistic about these situations and what can we learn from them; how we can grow. I think that there’s balance in every scenario.
RG: Yeah, and usually a reaction to that action.
RG: I think for us, it does allow us to slow down and think about things that, maybe because of work, you might be so jammed up that even when you’re home, you’re still thinking about work. I’m pretty sure you feel like that all the time too.
RG: But yeah, maybe even pick up a book that you’ve been trying to read for the past 3 years.
RG: I saw yesterday that you threw out ‘ask a question’ on your personal Instagram. Do you think this crisis is giving you more time to reflect on what you have, like your growing fan base?
MW: Yeah! It’s been great to connect with them. I hope it’s not too boring.
RG: Naw it’s good! How have you been killing time when you’re not working? Are you watching any films? Reading any books?
MW: Mostly just working!
RG: I think we actually caught you during lunch [laughs]. Are you cooking at all?
MW: Yeah, I’ve been cooking a lot!
RG: Have you always been into that? And do you have any good recipes you’d like to share?
MW: We’ve been making a lot of banana bread.
MW: Which has been [laughs]. Yeah.
RG: [Laughs]. Okay. I guess I’ll wrap this up with one last question. If there was a piece of advice that you could give to someone trying to break into the industry right now, what would you tell them?
MW: Just never give up. And go into this industry if you really love it, because it’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice.
RG: Lastly, what would you like to ask the next interviewee?
MW: What are you grateful for?
RG: Thanks again for spending the time to talk with us Matthew. Take care and stay safe.