How Matthew M. Williams Became Givenchy's Creative Director

From his early years in fashion to becoming the creative director of a luxury brand, here’s how Matthew M. Williams ascended to Givenchy.

Matthew M. Williams

Image via Getty/Estrop

Matthew M. Williams

On Monday, LVMH-owned French luxury brand Givenchy announced that Matthew M. Williams, 34, would serve as the house’s creative director. Starting on June 16, Williams will take over Givenchy’s men’s and women’s lines. Like Virgil Abloh’s appointment at Louis Vuitton two years ago, Williams’ first major creative director role at Givenchy marks the rising influence of streetwear designers within luxury. Within five years, Williams has turned his brand, 1017 ALYX 9SM, into one of the most recognizable streetwear-inspired luxury brands. Known for its signature roller-coaster buckles, the line has received more celebrity cosigns than we can count—as Drake declared on “Toosie Slide,” ”Buckles on the jacket, it's Alyx shit!”  And worked on popular collaborations with brands like Moncler, Nike, Vans, Stüssy, Mackintosh, and more. 

But how did a kid from a small beach town in California, who dropped out of college, get hired for one of the most gilded positions within fashion. From working as a creative director for Lady Gaga and Kanye West, to launching the Tumblr-era streetwear brand Been Trill, Williams’ path to a brand like Givenchy might appear unconventional. However, it shows how the industry might be less concerned with design pedigree and more interested in how a designer has captured the cultural zeitgeist. Williams has built a steady cult following within the past decade and his appointment at Givenchy will bring a fresh voice to its ready-to-wear lines. Here’s a comprehensive timeline on Matthew M. Williams' career to better understand how he got here. 

Early Years (1985-2003)

Raised in Pismo Beach, California, Matthew Williams grew up as a skate rat in the ‘90s who first encountered fashion by falling in love with surf and skate brands such as Stüssy, Shorty’s, and LRG. After being recruited to play soccer at the University of California Santa Barbara, Williams dropped out after one semester to pursue fashion in Los Angeles. His first foray into the industry was working as a production manager for Corpus—a Los Angeles brand by Keith A. Richardson. Williams moved to LA when he was 19 and met his wife Jennifer while DJ-ing at a club—Jennifer Williams also works in fashion industry and was the sales director for Hood By Air and a designer for Edith A. Miller. Shortly after they met, the couple moved to New York City together. 

Designed 2008 Grammys Jacket for Kanye West 

Kanye West Grammy's 2008

Williams would go on to work closely with Kanye West over the next few years as an associate for Donda, but the relationship with the rap superstar began at the 2008 Grammys. A 21-year-old Williams got in contact with West through his then-stylist, who asked the young designer to make West a custom suit jacket. The piece was worn by Ye throughout the night and highlighted by its glowing chest panels. Obviously, West was a fan and hired Williams to work under Donda’s then-creative director Willo Perron moving forward. 

“He is the person that gave me my first break,” Williams told Dazed in 2014. “I owe him everything. He’s been an amazing friend and mentor.”

Creative Director for Lady Gaga 

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Despite getting rejected from Parsons, Williams moved to New York City and became entrenched in the local club scene, which is how he met Lady Gaga. From 2008 to 2010, Williams served as Lady Gaga’s creative director and boyfriend. During his time at the Haus of Gaga, Williams helped build some of the pop star’s most memorable looks, such as her iconic “Disco Stick.” Nicknamed “Dada” by Gaga, he also served as the creative director for The Monster Ball Tour and put together the Supreme x Lady Gaga ad campaign. During his time with Gaga, Williams developed relationships with the British photographer Nick Knight, Gaga’s stylist and fashion director Nicola Formichetti, Hedi Slimane, and the late Alexander McQueen.

Art Director for Kanye West

Following his stint as the creative director for Lady Gaga, Williams went on to work fulltime as an art director for Donda, Kanye West’s creative agency. Prior to being hired at Donda, Williams also helped develop Kanye’s first clothing brand, Pastelle. According to an interview with Grailed, Williams helped manufacture and create the brand’s first samples. Williams served as art director and music consultant for Yeezus. He also worked on stage development and design for the European leg of West’s Watch The Throne tour. Williams also helped make iconic music videos for West during this time such as “Mercy” and “New Slaves.”

Co-Founded Been Trill

Alongside Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston, and Justin Saunders, Williams founded Been Trill in 2012. Starting initially as a DJ collective that played the music they wanted to hear at clubs, Been Trill would transform into a full-fledged brand known for its signature drippy text, collabs with Hood By Air, and its infinite amount of internet clout. Cosigns from names like West and ASAP Rocky made the internet hype reach a fever pitch. In its short run, Been Trill collaborated with up-and-coming acts like Travis Scott, streetwear heavyweights like Stüssy, and luxury department stores like Harvey Nichols.

Been Trill Opens New York Store on Canal Street

Been Trill was that “it” brand for a brief period in the 2010s for fashion Tumblr, SoHo street kids, and beyond. One of its more interesting decisions was opening its own store. No, they didn’t spark lineups on Mercer Street. Willams and company set up shop around the corner on the infamous Canal Street in a shopping mall surrounded by bargain T-shirts and bootleg accessories. The temporary location at 271 Canal Street sold a continuous carousel of T-shirts and hoodies sporting things like spider web prints, the “Free Keef” graphic, and signature dripping typeface that became Been Trill’s calling card. Rumors of retail expansion in other fashion capitals like Los Angeles and Tokyo never fully came to fruition, but the Canal Street experiment is certainly one of the more interesting pop-up experiences we have seen a brand put together.

Been Trill x PacSun

The apex, or total demise depending on who you talk to, of Been Trill came in 2013 when the collective launched its first capsule collection with mall retailer PacSun. Up to that point, the shopping mall storefront was home to surf and skate brands like Hurley or Quiksilver. Finding the coolest brands on their shelves seemed odd, but it’s exactly what happened when Been Trill’s “#MallRatz” and melting smiley face T-shirts arrived. For many of the brands core followers, they thought Been Trill jumped the shark. What was once a rare status symbol was now something that the swagless kid from your hometown was wearing, but in the grand scheme of things it put the collective’s product in front of its biggest audience to date. Questionable collabs with Budweiser and Coca-Cola also happened, but the first few drops from the partnership stayed true to the brand’s aesthetic and made Been Trill much more attainable. Clearly, it worked. PacSun’s entire business model seemed to shift in years that followed. Top designers like Jerry Lorenzo and Rhuigi Villaseñor have sold diffusion lines through the mall retailer to date, but the limited, hyped-up streetwear capsules all started with Been Trill. The hype would eventually fizzle out and the team would disband to tackle their own respective ventures in 2015.

Launches 1017 Alyx 9SM

Originally named “Alyx” after his daughter, Williams launched his popular clothing brand as a women’s clothing line in 2015. To bring the brand to fruition, Williams enlisted Luca Benini of Slam Jam as a partner in the brand. Williams brought in the Italian streetwear veteran to assist with manufacturing high quality garments in Italy. Although Slam Jam has traditionally been known as an influential distributor, it began to handle production for brands with Alyx. In an interview with Grailed, Williams said that Benini was “the perfect partner” and that “many of his [Benini’s] interests and passions are reflected in the brand as well.” Within three seasons Alyx was stocked in stores like Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Dover Street Market, Machine-A, The Broken Arm, and Colette. In 2016, Williams was nominated as a finalist for the prestigious LVMH Prize. Quickly, Alyx’s roller-coaster buckles began flooding social media feeds and accessories like the Chest Rig became must-haves after stars like Kanye West cosigned it. 

First 1017 Alyx 9SM Menswear Collection 

Although many Japanese buyers purchased Alyx’s women’s collection for male shoppers, Alyx didn’t call his line unisex, and said he always wanted to produce clothes for himself at some point. That time finally came in 2017 when he released his first Alyx men’s collection, which helped establish what would become his design DNA: technical sportswear merged with skate and street references. He named the collection “E. 1999 Eternal” after the Bone Thugs-n-Harmony album, and pulled S&M, military, and tailoring references from his time spent in Berlin. He showed bomber jackets, suits, leather jackets, and graphic T-shirts made from upcycled cotton. Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony, Totokaelo and SSENSE picked up the collection.

First 1017 Alyx 9SM Runway Show

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For Alyx’s first runway show, which took place in June 2018, Matthew Williams also debuted a new brand name: 1017 Alyx 9SM—the 1017 representing his birthday on October 17, and the 9SM indicating the address of his first studio in New York City at 9 St. Marks Place. The show took place in a stripped down venue in Paris and the front row included Kanye West, ASAP Rocky, Skepta, and Virgil Abloh, who also debuted his men’s collection for Louis Vuitton that week. Williams presented women’s and men’s together and described the collection as "luxury subverted by counter-cultures." He presented sportswear that would appeal to a wide swath of consumers, tailored coats, technical outerwear, his signature accessories (chest rigs and buckle belts) along with collaborative pieces with Nike, Mackintosh, and Majocchi, an Italian weaver. It was a big statement for a debut collection and it situated him as a designer to watch.

MMW x Nike

The MMW x Nike collections have continued to this day, but began back in 2018. They have remained consistent with premium sportswear pieces like dyed Dri-Fit T-shirts, fleece jackets covered in camouflage with a detachable ripstop collars, and running caps with industrial adjustable straps. Alyx’s signature chest rigs and roller coaster buckles are also showcased throughout each capsule giving fans of the pricey luxury brand something more attainable. Of course, footwear has also been a major part of the partnership with a lineup that has included limited versions of classics like the Air Force 1 High with redesigned ankle straps adorned with roller coaster buckles, and more innovative designs like Free TR 3s with a removable Vibram sole unit that can be installed onto countless other sneakers.

Designs Hardware for Dior Spring/Summer 2019 Collection

Since taking over as the artistic director of Dior Men’s, Kim Jones has fueled the luxury brand’s collections with obvious streetwear influence that has ranged from a full capsule with Kaws to a collaboration with OG Shawn Stussy. Another example was Jones’ decision to tap his close friend Williams to design the hardware for his inaugural Spring/Summer 2019 collection with Dior. The result was Alyx’s signature roller coaster buckles being featured on a handful of pieces from backpacks to belts that further cemented the Williams’ signature design.

Appointed as Creative Director of Givenchy

Givenchy isn’t a stranger to streetwear. Riccardo Tisci, who served as creative director for 12 years starting in 1995, gave the house a much needed jolt with his collections that melded together luxury and street in an impactful way that sold. Clare Waight Keller, succeeded Tisci when he left in 2017, and while she was a critically acclaimed designer, her collections failed to move the needle at retail. 

This has led to Williams being named the creative director of Givenchy, which is owned by LVMH, a company Williams already has a relationship with—he worked with Kim Jones, the artistic director of Dior, on men’s accessories including the roller coaster buckle hardware. Williams, who is the French house's seventh designer, made the announcement via a voice note, emphasizing how he’s spent 15 years working towards this one goal. He will be designing men’s and women’s, and his first collection for the house will debut this October

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