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Givenchy Hiring Matthew Williams as Creative Director Cements Fashion’s Famous BFFs Era

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Matthew Williams, who was named the creative director of Paris-based fashion brand Givenchy today, is only 35 years old, but he’s already had more star-making chapters in his career than most in his new, rarefied position. He’s the founder of the influential brand 1017 ALYX 9SM, which blends the minimalist workwear ethos of Helmut Lang with a club-kid influencer spirit. Before that, he was a key member of the collective Been Trill, creative director to Lady Gaga as she became an international superstar, and an early visual collaborator with Kanye West. His career may seem sprawling, but Williams is a highly focused collaborator who, over the past decade, could be found just in front of wherever the culture was headed. The ultimate guy behind the guy (or Gaga) is now the man at the front of one of luxury’s most influential Parisian couture brands.

Williams’s ascent to the helm of Givenchy marks a new era in the ever-evolving definition of fashion designer. Clare Waight Keller spent the past two and a half years bringing a bourgeois sensibility to Givenchy, with mussy ’90s menswear and a celebrated couture atelier, but under its previous creative director, Riccardo Tisci, Givenchy was the first big house to see the wisdom (and value) in marrying streetwear and luxury fashion. That’s a reputation that Williams seems poised to carry forward, but he can be expected to put his own twist on the idea. Because Williams is emblematic of a new breed of impresario, the DJ-designer-merch maker-coolhunter who is as fluent in savvy marketing as he is in fashion design. He is an expert at creating not simply the full look, but the whole visual universe, studded with characters, a killer soundtrack, the right accessories, and the best partners: along the way, he also worked with Hood by Air, Supreme, Stussy, and Nike.

To trace Williams’s career is to trace fashion’s most notable subcultures over the past decade and a half. While the appointment of Williams certainly represents a shift in direction from Waight Keller, it’s also a return to form for a fashion brand that spent the 2010s at the center of culture, dressing Kanye West and creating some of the luxury world’s first must-have sneakers. As the fashion world struggles to chart a way forward amid coronavirus, the environmental crisis, and a historic fight for civil rights, Williams picks up where Tisci left off, when fashion represented popular culture at its zenith, and where creative risks, if ventured, required a celebrity cosign.

The Early Years: 1985-2005

Williams, who grew up in Pismo Beach, California, dropped out of the University of California, Santa Barbara, after one semester spent studying art, opting instead to hang in Los Angeles, helping a friend with his denim line and becoming a regular in that city’s club scene. It was while he was out clubbing that he met his wife Jennifer, with whom he moved to New York three months later. He applied to study fashion at Parsons, but was rejected. (Never give up on your dreams!) He became a regular in that city’s club scene, too—this was in the mid-2000s, a golden age for New York’s bottle service nightlife—which is allegedly where he met Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, whom you may know as Lady Gaga.

Go (Kanye) West, Young Man: 2008

Williams moved back to Los Angeles about a year and half later, where he met Kanye West’s then-stylist, who asked him to make the LED jacket with West’s then-creative director Willo Perron that the rapper wore to the 2008 Grammy Awards. (A work of goth apocalyptica: you can see shades of the glossy, hard-edged Gaga to come.) He later served as the art director for West’s creative company DONDA.

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