I’ve missed out on the last couple of Givenchy collections, but as far as I can see, Matthew M. Williams’ vision of the brand didn’t move anywhere forward. His autumn-winter 2022 offering is a straightforward take on “luxe” streetwear, and doesn’t really deliver any novelties. “I’m interested in making clothes that people wear, and that ease of it, so I guess it was finding those archetypes for today that I found interesting,” he explained before the show. Rendered largely in dark green and black, the collection was a wardrobe composed of the stereotypes that come with the territory, at least from a fashion perspective: layered and tiered T-shirts and sweatshirts with logo graphics in the vein of metal band merchandise; baggy denim trousers and leather tracksuits; and voluminous floor-length pimp coats that floated along the stadium-like structure bathed in the light of four surrounding LED lamps that looked like those used on football fields. In general, it all looks like a mediocre mash-up of Riccardo Tisci’s era Givenchy and early Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga. Williams mentioned he took a look at the brand’s archives. Drawing on adornments and constructions he found in the house’s archives – from Audrey Hepburn’s pearls to the intricately strapped back of an evening dress – he translated the decorative language of Hubert de Givenchy into the contemporary tropes he was investigating. From eveningwear to day-wear, it materialized in pearl embroideries on jeans, beaded tops used for layering (which later turned into cocktail dresses), and long T-shirts sliced up from the bottom to resemble a kind of garter belt. I wasn’t convinced. Givenchy is a brand that can do much better with such rich history of chic and elegance.
It’s Matthew M. Williams‘ second season at Givenchy, and it’s quite clear what he’s about: celebrity-driven moments, Insta-friendly accessories and a well-edited clash of different aesthetics that should hit the Gen Z target. While his debut was promising, his autumn-winter 2021 collection didn’t feel overly noteworthy. It really looks like a mash-up of Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy-era style tricks with a pinch of new Bottega. Which of course isn’t a crime – I bet it will sell pretty well. The biggest highlights were the big, furry coats and gilets with matching horned balaclavas, giant “extra-terrestrial” mittens and hoof-like platform shoes, fit for a centaur. Presented in the industrial Paris La Défense Arena with headlights hovering above models’ heads like they were on the run from a flying saucer, the collection was very sci-fi inferno but with the lockdown-inspired outdoorsy twist we’ve become accustomed to this season. Supersized Cuban chains are here to stay, while hardware on tailoring and as embellishment on dresses continued Williams’s clash between the Givenchy ateliers and his own industrial world. He translated that same sensibility into his first digital red carpet moments, in evening dresses shingled with rigid sequins, which cascaded into vivacious hems like the crashing of waves. Their lines reflected Williams’ ongoing proposal for a women’s silhouette, expressed in knitted bodycon numbers or column dresses. In overall, the collection reads to me as “proper” – a similar feeling I had with Kim Jones’ ready-to-wear debut this season.
You might be on fence with Matthew M. Williams‘ style and aesthetic, but you’ve got to admit one thing: this guy knows how to shake up a brand and make present it all over the place (even if that revamp isn’t overly ground-breaking). Talking about his first pre-collection for Givenchy, he evaded questions of the specific visual references that may have inspired it, choosing instead to focus on nerdy things like cuts and fabrication. No mood-boards here. “I don’t really work like that, actually. I’m more on the body, touching materials. Sometimes there’ll be imagery that inspires things, but it’s very instinctual,” he told Vogue. Williams is emblematic of a new wave of designers for whom fashion is often less about producing the flashy statement piece than about perfecting the unassuming wardrobe staple – of course, with an endlessly-studied twist. “What I find exciting is often things I would wear myself,” as Williams said. “As somebody who shops, if I’m buying a suit and I want to wear a t-shirt with the suit instead of a button-up, I want that brand to have a nice t-shirt for me to wear.” His new collection for Givenchy proposes a series of wardrobe staples subverted through his soft-versus-aggressive lens. A classic letterman jacket chopped into a bolero and realized in a super luxe, tonal red knitwear; a rather normal long-sleeved black day dress hacked up at the waist like a little piece of architecture; business-ready blazers with complex lapel and collar structures seemingly morphing in and out the fabric. “For me, it’s really finding that tension between my real world – how I wear clothes on a daily basis – with this magical dream world of the maison,” he said. The knitted, slightly figure-hugging dresses continued to outline his womenswear silhouette for Givenchy, which debuted in his first line-up, while silk leggings and EVA-soled suede sliders represented the elevated sportswear element of the collection. Interestingly, Williams’s take on Givenchy isn’t too sporty. “I do wear suits,” he reiterated. “It feels more like me.” Of course, that’s not to say that a generous amount of logos – another pillar of the social media generation – didn’t find their way into the collection. This kind of makes Williams’ vision feel like Riccardo Tisci’s logo-heavy Givenchy off-spring. Williams latticed a lace dress in Givenchy’s archival four-G logo, embossed them on bags and forged them in bag chains. Well. While every fashion magazine has a new Givenchy special in it, 500 million people were reached in October with the brand’s social media campaign featuring everyone from Kim Kardashian to Julianne Moore, and first designs designed by Matthew are hitting the stores, time will show if that “perfect” recipe actually works.
To be honest, except for beautiful couture moments, Clare Waight Keller’s Givenchy was a yawn. But when I heard that Matthew M. Williams is the new creative director, I was skeptical – I never understood what’s his Alyx is all about. To my surprise, his debut collection for the French maison was pretty good, closer to Riccardo Tisci’s years when the brand was a fusion of dark elegance and a fresh look at “street-wear” (I dread this word, because it got completely distorted throughout the years). During the Paris presentation (no fashion show, but a look-book), placed front and center was his new lock jewelry inspired by those hung on the bridges of Paris by tourist lovebirds, who throw the key in the Seine. “It’s no secret that I’m really into hardware, and that’s what I lay the foundation with when I start a new project. It comes into shoes, bags, clothing,” he said. Williams is also obsessed with texture – from the reptilian to the volcanic and the densely embellished – as fervently illustrated at his own label. His Givenchy debut read entirely like a morph between those codes and the black-clad elegance of the house he now inhabits. Suspended between the formal and the super casual, the devil was in the fabric treatments. There’s a twisted expensiveness about Williams’s clothes that feels good and dirty all at once. What’s interesting, Williams hadn’t worked with a particular inspiration. “I’m not a person who designs in themes. It’s very much product-focused. A lot of it is what I would wear personally,” he explained, adding he did take a trip to the archives that birthed some horn heels informed by Alexander McQueen’s era, and nods to Hubert de Givenchy evident in some rigorous tailoring. The focus on product was seemingly an unemotional process that paid off in the precision of design clearly made to be instantly coveted: mushroomed slides, politely stompy black leather boots, magnified takes on existing bags. There weren’t many logos around – which I appreciate a lot. Williams isn’t mad about them. “It’s funny that I get lumped into people expecting that I do that, which I don’t really understand because at Alyx we don’t do that either,” he noted. Instead, he wants his hardware to replace the role of logos. In fact, Williams’s vision for the Givenchy woman – “very elegant and powerful and chic” – was remarkably graphic and decorative. A transparent white coat covered in fuzzy tinsel, worn over a white laser-cut top that looked like a bustier made from ribbon, with cream trousers, was simply gagging for a scene in an early 2000s music video. This will sell well, I guess.