OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Matthew Williams’ aesthetic is often dubbed "luxury streetwear," reflecting his roots in skateboarding and 90s West Coast hip-hop. But the Chicago-born, California-raised creative director of fashion brand 1017 ALYX 9SM rejects the label.
“Streetwear is a very loaded term,” he told BoF’s Tim Blanks on the BoF VOICES stage. “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.”
Such was Williams’ passion for bringing luxury-level production to his designs that, in 2017, he moved to Ferrara, Italy, to be closer to business partner Luca Benini and work more directly with the factories that produce his collections.
“I’m a product person, I care about the materials, the manufacturers,” Williams explained. “It’s difficult to make the product anywhere outside of Italy. I design into the strength of the factory. There’s so much craftsmanship to be unlocked. I try to find a supplier and learn and be taught how to make each category as best as possible.”
Williams was part of Been Trill, a loose collective of creatives that included pivotal luxury streetwear designers Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston. “Been Trill was just a group of friends having fun,” countered Williams. But the group, which was also linked to Kanye West, with whom Williams has worked for years, was something of a launchpad for the designer.
Streetwear is a very loaded term... I’m interested in modern craft.
Williams has also had the advantage of collaborating with Lady Gaga on her stage outfits. “Working with musicians, working in entertainment, making costumes — that really helped,” he recalled. “When I started the brand, I already had great relationships around the world.”
Alyx — named after Williams' daughter — is a family affair, and he was keen to underscore his wife's importance to the brand. “My wife Jennifer and I started [Alyx] together,” he said. “She designed our best-selling bag; she’s an equal part of the success. It would not be possible without her.
Rick Owens, a fellow Californian transplant to Europe, is a big inspiration for Williams. “Rick is a huge inspiration — being independent, working with his wife, producing in Italy.” Then there’s that uniquely Californian mix of shadow and sunshine that informs both designers. “California encapsulates dark and light,” explained Williams.
“Everything about this project is so personal,” he added. “There are so many clothes in the world… A life-long project like this needs to be personal. It needs to ask: what does it mean to live today? It’s about what I feel is relevant to me and the circle of people around me.”
To learn more about VOICES, BoF's annual gathering for big thinkers, visit our VOICES website, where you can find all the details on our invitation-only global gathering.