Change is coming for Givenchy. The French brand is going to emerge from coronavirus confinement with not just new social distancing rules, but a whole new look. Two months after Clare Waight Keller stepped down as creative director, the house announced that it had named a new designer, and he comes not from the school of couture, but rather the school of Kanye.
Matthew M. Williams, the founder of the haute streetwear line 1017 Alyx 9SM, will be the new creative director. He will be the third Givenchy designer in three years, heralding yet another aesthetic about-face for the brand and an apparent renunciation of its Audrey Hepburn past. Mr. Williams will be responsible for all creative aspects of the brand, including both women’s and men’s wear, and will start June 16.
“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.”
The 34-year-old from Pismo Beach, Calif., who founded Alyx in 2015, has no formal design training, but he does have a résumé that includes being creative director for Lady Gaga, art director for Mr. West, and a founder (along with Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston, among others) of Been Trill, a short-lived collective of coolness.
Like Mr. Abloh, who is now the artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear, as well as Rihanna, with her Fenty line, Mr. Williams brings a sensibility forged in the crucible of the music/club scene rather than the atelier. He is also close to Kim Jones, the artistic director of Christian Dior Men and a master of the high-low street-luxe hybrid. Mr. Jones made the tuxedo Mr. Williams wore to his wedding and well as his wife’s wedding dress; Mr. Williams in turn made a buckle for Mr. Jones’s 2019 Dior debut.
All of which would suggest that Givenchy’s owner, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is doubling down on the idea that the future of luxury will have less to do with a designer’s ability to cut a pattern than their ability to amalgamate the broader cultural moment.
This is a skill that is, perhaps, more high stakes now than ever, given this highly fraught cultural moment, as fashion begins to grapple with its own history of racism. Especially at a group like LVMH, which, as the largest luxury conglomerate in the world, is in many ways as close to an avatar of the establishment and the exclusionary system that maintained it as currently exists.
It is also proof positive that the LVMH prize for young designers — Mr. Williams was a finalist in 2016 — doubles as a hunting ground for new talent.
Indeed, as Sidney Toledano, the chief executive of the LVMH Fashion Group, said in announcing Mr. Williams’ new job, “Since he took part in the LVMH Prize, we have had the pleasure of watching him develop into the great talent he is today.”
Mr. Williams is relocating with his family from Italy (they live in Ferrara) to Paris, though he is not giving up Alyx, which will remain independent of LVMH.
Known for his ability to marry exacting tailoring with hard-core hardware — one of his signatures is a weighty roller coaster buckle inspired by a trip to a Six Flags amusement park — Mr. Williams has an affinity for tank-size boots, butter-soft leathers, a highly diverse runway cast and a lot of tattoos (including a black cross on the nape of his neck). Cross the Green Berets with the Rat Pack and send them on weekend furlough to Gstaad, and they’d probably wear Alyx.
He has collaborated with Vans and Nike, and hence has a track record with that now essential fashion item, a sneaker (which Givenchy did not have under Ms. Waight Keller), as well as Mackintosh. He is also part of the Moncler Genius group of guest artists.
In this, Mr. Williams’s aesthetic is more closely aligned with that of Riccardo Tisci, the artistic director of Givenchy from 2005 to 2017, and the man whose gothic romanticism, understanding of the power of a sweatshirt and appreciation of a Kardashian helped move it into the 21st century, than with that of Ms. Waight Keller, who shifted Givenchy closer to its Hepburn roots, bridging then and now when she became the surprise designer of Meghan Markle’s wedding dress.
Though critically acclaimed for her couture, Ms. Waight Keller struggled to find a voice in ready-to-wear. Givenchy, once touted as the next billion dollar brand by Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of LVMH, never made the leap.
If Mr. Williams is the man to fulfill those goals in a world just emerging from the immediate effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the luxury balance sheet hard and has raised questions over future consumer behavior, coupled now with a foreground of global unrest, is now the question.
The answer will be unveiled in October, when Mr. Williams makes his Givenchy debut in Paris.