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The Logic Behind Givenchy's New Designer Appointment

Matthew M. Williams, founder of the luxury streetwear-inspired label 1017 ALYX 9SM, succeeds Clare Waight Keller. What expertise does he bring to the LVMH-owned brand?
Matthew Williams at the Alyx menswear show in January in Paris | Source: Estrop/Getty Images
By
  • Chantal Fernandez
BoF PROFESSIONAL

PARIS, France — Givenchy is gearing up for another creative reset.

The LVMH-owned brand announced on Monday that designer Matthew M. Williams, the 34-year-old founder of luxury streetwear-inspired label 1017 ALYX 9SM, will be its new creative director, in the designer's first major director role. He succeeds Clare Waight Keller after her exit in April, and will present his first collection in Paris in October. Williams will continue to operate Alyx independently.

The appointment will particularly excite Millennial and Gen-Z shoppers, who are projected to represent at least half of luxury shoppers by 2025, according to Bain & Company, and who drive consumption in China, the world's largest market for personal luxury goods.

Williams' new role marks the second time a designer rooted in street fashion has taken the helm of a major legacy luxury brand, following Virgil Abloh's hiring at Louis Vuitton in 2018. In recent years, luxury brands have sought to keep up with a generational change in shoppers by appointing designers who, like young people from Europe to China, grew up on hip hop and Supreme. The designer behind Alyx, with its cult-following and cultural cachet that warrants it a name-check in Drake's most recent song, is not a surprising choice to many in the industry.

1017 Alyx 9SM Autumn 2020 | Source: Courtesy

Williams will likely further push Givenchy in a streetwear direction, though he joins the luxury couture house during a period of turbulence for the fashion industry. The pandemic is expected to shrink the luxury market by as much as 35 percent this year due to store closures and decreased travel and consumer spending. His first collections will likely not be able to debut at the kinds of highly anticipated runway shows the industry expects from new creative eras at major luxury houses.

And, Williams will be joining the label during a moment of profound societal change, during which consumers are questioning how all the institutions they interact with are actively fighting discrimination. Streetwear owes a significant debt to black culture, arguably its largest influence, though most of its leading brands or designers are white. At LVMH, for instance, all but three of the 15 artistic or creative directors at its fashion brands are men, and only two are people of colour.

"I am grateful to the LVMH group for trusting me with the opportunity to fulfill my lifelong dream," 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 towards positive change."

Williams, who grew up in California and will now relocate to Paris from Ferrara, Italy, entered the fashion business through the music industry and is known for his work with Lady Gaga, Abloh and Kanye West. He is also a close collaborator of Abloh's; they were among the co-founders of the creative collective Been Trill in 2012. Both designers are West-associated creatives who have ascended to the highest ranks of the fashion industry in recent years.

Williams launched women’s fashion label Alyx in 2015 — backed by sportswear distributor and cultural arbiter Slam Jam, led by Luca Benini — and was a finalist for the LVMH Prize the following year. In 2017, he added a men’s line, which has become more prominent than the women’s collection.

Matthew Williams by Paolo Roversi | Source: Courtesy

"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."

Alyx is understated in its style, although inspired by punk rock and gothic fashion, and is a hit with the hypebeast set and beyond as Williams' profile and the label's cult-like status has grown. With the label, Williams has collaborated over the years with Vans, Nike and Kim Jones at Dior, among others, while making noise about the importance of manufacturing in Italy — he even moved there in order to be close to production.

Williams' focus on materials and sustainability was also likely appealing to Givenchy. Consumers were already demanding more transparency about the environmental impact of fashion products before the pandemic, and in light of the recession, quality and craftsmanship will likely take on even greater weight for shoppers.

At Givenchy, Wiliams will likely be expected to deliver the types of collections that drive customers to queue up to shop, but on a much larger scale than he has operated before. At Givenchy, a couture house with a rich history, there are major growth expectations. Former Chief Executive Philippe Fortunato told BoF in 2018 that parent company LVMH hoped the label would grow to Dior-like size, meaning revenue exceeding €2 billion ($2.14 billion).

Waight Keller broke firmly from former creative director Riccardo Tisci's approach, and her couture collections were widely praised. But market sources said customers were cool on the offering except for the more streetwear-leaning men's collections, which represented about half of sales when she joined the label. Fortunato exited in February, replaced by former Dior Americas executive Renaud de Lesquen.

"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.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misidentified Williams' title. He is the creative director for Givenchy, not its artistic director. 

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