Vol.18 ARCHIVE - 1017 ALYX 9SM

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From Volume 18

Photography _ Karl Hab
Writer _ Christophe Victoor


American designer Matthew Williams launched the label ALYX in 2015 with Luca Benini, founder of the clothing distribution and retail company Slam Jam. We caught up with Williams at his Paris showroom to find out more about his creative process and hear his thoughts on the future of the brand.

It has been very impressive to see the development of ALYX over the past few seasons. You recently introduced a men’s collection. How did this expansion come about?

It was actually always in the plan to make men’s clothing. It just felt like the right time to begin it to be honest. I always wanted to make clothes which I wanted to wear, and clothes I was inspired by. 

Did you ever notice men wearing pieces from your previous collections?

Yes, actually. We noticed a lot of men wearing some of the women’s clothes. For me, clothing is clothing. I love when women wear men’s clothes, for example when my wife wears my clothes. I also love when guys find pieces in the women’s collections which they can wear. And when they wear it well, it is super cool!

However, certain things like denim are a bit complicated to share in both closets. When you have a denim pocket which is spaced specifically to make the girls’ butt look good; and a guy puts them on, you definitely see that the proportion is very different. So when I realised that a bunch of guys were wearing the women’s jeans, I didn’t want people to think they were my men’s jeans – especially as there was not enough communication about our menswear at this point.

It felt like there was a real desire in the market for guys to see something from ALYX, and it happened naturally. We said, “Okay, let’s go!” The first collection from August 2017 was kind of a preview, and the new things coming out in February 2018 will be a lot more complete in a similar way as what we we do with the women’s collection. 

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Do you find yourself designing men’s pieces at the same time as women’s? How do you balance your design process between both?

I find that the process when designing both collections really connects. They share fabrics a lot of the times. I am now designing the Autumn 2018 men’s and women’s collections at the same time, and there is definitely an aesthetic link between both.

Who are you aiming to reach with ALYX?

I think what is nice with our brand is that there is obviously a focused aesthetic, but still, a broad demographic can find pieces they like in our project. Really young kids can be introduced through the T-shirts, and maybe this can be a bridge for them to eventually get into the tailoring pieces. It is the same thing with the women’s line. I think generations of women who are more mature will tend to like the evening pieces or the high heels, whereas a young girl can wear Vans and jeans and mix it together. I like the idea of there being a lot of different entry points to people for the brand while still having quite a strong image.

The way I design is quite instinctual, it usually starts from what I want to wear. I think of things that have remained timeless in my wardrobe, or things that I feel should exist. Sometimes I also see new fabric developments, or think of things that should be done with a specific idea. For the women’s collection, it is very much an idea of beauty, strength and empowerment for women. I want women to feel quite powerful yet sexual in the clothes I design. This is why we have the side slips, open backs – this is what I like to see women wear. I like that my wife dresses like that.

Is there a specific style you aim to create with ALYX?

Something that I have kept in the top of my mind lately is that the world is being programmed to have everything that we interact with be made for us individuals. There is some form of machine or computing that filters through all the products or experiences that we consume. The problem when things are being filtered through a machine is that they come out perfect. They come out smooth. It is my aim to try to find a version of the future which feels like nature, or feels touched by human beings. I want to keep this natural feeling in mind. For example, I will pair a technical fabric with an organic fabric like leather. Or cotton with a garment dye nylon. It creates this tension between the ultra-sterile world and what our world has been for the past hundreds of years, thousands of years, millions of years. I think there will be a real want for that, a more modern approach to clothing. It is important to value these things that are touched by hands, by the humans. I am kind of looking for beautiful imperfections and trying to create a structure for them to happen in. This is why I am very much into garment washing, fabric development, experimenting with developments and mixtures. Before we know it, these elements could easily be lost in the aim of perfection and individual preferences.

Having moved to Italy to develop the brand, have you found this balance of modern manufacturing with handwork easier to execute?

Yes, because there are still artisans there. There are still craftsmen.

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Was the move to Italy something you had planned?

I had made clothes all over the world before starting the brand: LA, New York, Japan, China – even in London and France on some projects. I had never made clothes in Italy, but obviously it is world renowned as a place that can make great stuff. I wanted to go explore what was possible there, and that is how I met my partner. We decided to start the business when I reached out to him for help in finding suppliers to make this new project with. He has been my link to building relationships with everybody. It is quite old school here. These suppliers can range from people who work with big luxury brands to people like the team who make our leather accessories, who are a husband and wife with a small manufacturing studio in the back of their house. Now we have completely taken over their whole studio and they are hiring people. It is real, real handmade. So it ranges from places with only three people which is amazing because we can make five or ten units of something if we want, to people who are shipping 500 Louis Vuitton or Hermes dresses a month. Each relationship is quite different but the main factor is that I am there. I am not just a name in an e-mail. I am a face – I am there. And because they believe in the project, they are willing to try.

How do you plan to grow the brand?

I am most inspired by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. As a business model for my own brand, I would like to mirror what he created. Something I learned from him is that he makes decisions as if the brand is going to be around 100 years. They do not say, “Hey, our business has to grow 15% each year.” They do not have a board of directors who are chasing growth numbers. If the market says it wants a 1% growth, then the growth is 1%. Because this is sustainable, because they are not over-producing. And this is what we are doing. We are creating a very solid foundation, and we are making decisions having in mind that ALYX should be around and continue for many decades. This is the growth strategy. By doing it this way, it solves a lot of potential problems. We can all agree that the world is changing very fast. Any kind of rule book that existed in the past is not applicable today. And that goes in every single aspect of life. Our children grow up in a world where they do not know that the skills we are teaching them cannot even be applied to the future. What is the point in planning any kind of strategy that has worked in the past for other fashion brands? We are aware that the result is unknown. We can think of hundreds of possible variations of what the answer will be in the future, and it is not going to be any of them. This is why our plan is to take it slow and grow with what is needed.

There will never not be a demand for things that last for people. We want to build a community around our brand. We want to support our wholesalers and speak directly to our customers. We want to tell them an authentic story about the quality products we make and what our belief system is. When someone wears our product, they are also wearing it as a badge of the same belief system that they have. This is what my goal is. Whatever comes in the future is more just about showing people what a modern business model can be. And a modern way of living. And a modern way of operating. This is all I can ever do. My goal is not to make more stuff, my goal is not to sell more things, my goal is not to brainwash people into wanting this brand. My goal is to have great collaborators, and inspire the people who see what we make and the people who I work with. And I think this is just a beautiful way to live life.

FashionJames Oliver