In February this year, an age away from the current moment, the Moncler Genius 2020 presentation was unveiled at Milan Fashion Week. Introduced by Moncler’s CEO and creative director Remo Ruffini in 2018 as a brand strategy leveraging on multiplicity through partnerships with designers from outside the brand, the Genius project is in its third iteration — and remains as exciting as it was when it was first launched. Blocks away from its warehouse location, the thumping music and strobing neon lights could be seen and heard, as the coalescing fashion week crowd whisked into and around the entrance. Inside, 12 individual collections with individual designers were presented in individual rooms or installations, at a scale that has been likened to a music festival.
Though introduced at the same time, the 12 different capsule collections are scheduled to drop online and in stores separately over a year. The designer Matthew Williams, of 1017 Alyx 9SM, is coming under the spotlight for the last leg of 2020. (Though Williams will not be last in the calendar of line-ups self-determined by the Italian puffer jacket specialist.)
Williams founded 1017 Alyx 9SM (which legions of fans call Alyx for short) in 2015. Prior to the founding of the label named for his first daughter, Williams had forged creative partnerships with top pop culture names such as Lady Gaga and Kanye West. In 2016, he was listed as a finalist of the LVMH Prize, without yet staging a fashion show or garnering much industry recognition. In 2017, following the rapid growth of Alyx, he moved from New York to Ferrara, Italy, in order to be closer to his business partner and production arms and take Alyx to the next level. Now, Williams boasts stockists including the tastemaking style purveyors Dover Street Market and Ssense; supporters including West and Travis Scott; and a creative director position at the legacy fashion house Givenchy.
The American designer Matthew Williams.
Amid these meteoric successes, the American designer also caught the eye of Ruffini over two years ago. “He saw images of my first Alyx runway show in Paris, the hardware and the outerwear we presented, and he contacted me to arrange a meeting,” says Williams over email. During the initial meeting, they discussed the concept underlying Moncler Genius and how the codes of Moncler could be reinterpreted in a conversation that Williams remembers to be “very simulating,” he says, “And then the magic happened.”
In his second Genius collaboration, Williams further develops his experiments with garment-dyeing, interplaying this trope that he explores extensively in his own brand, Alyx, with house codes of Moncler. The first steps he took when starting out on the collaboration were tactile in nature. “The way we work on collections is more touch and feel, than working on themes,” he says. “And also, always working on fabric developments, with recycled nylons and sustainable fabrics, that are very important to me.” Now, a design language has been established with the collection that Williams studies and improves continually. “The neck buckle jackets, for example,” he points out. “We offer this ‘language’ in different shapes and materials, evolving for each season.
Shades of muddy or peach beiges, in reflective or satin finishes, the result of Williams’s experiments with garment dyes.
While the California-raised designer has a distinct grunge appearance, with close-cropped hair, a body abounding with tattoos (his portraiture, for the announcement of his appointment as the Givenchy’s new creative director, showcased that), that makes him fit perfectly into the edgy sector of the industry, Williams never received formal training in fashion. He dropped out of the University of California, Santa Barbara, after one semester in an art course. He was turned away by Parsons’s fashion programme. Acknowledging the edge that the unconventional route has given him, Williams says, “I think it [has helped me] to think beyond just fashion and focus on great design and good products.”
Working with Moncler for over two years now, Williams compares the partnership to “an ongoing conversation where each part learns from the other.” Expanding on research in garment dyes, the latest collection features a swath of neutrals — peachy or muted beiges, slate grey or off-white — mixed in with navy blue and black on both padded and thin coats and jackets. The industrial, technical aesthetic of Alyx emerges in the juxtaposition of matte and reflective fabrics; signature hardware, such as prominent zippers and rollercoaster belts emblazoned with a collaborative logo; and heavy-duty rubber boots. Taking the experimentation with new techniques further, Williams coats a puffer jacket in Swarovski crystal dust using a technique involving recycled nylon laqué, creating an ironic, sparkling piece that glimmers under the light. The result, beyond the two high impact shows at Milan Fashion Week to date, is “a vocabulary of designs that are now part of my fashion language,” says Williams, who, when asked about the future of his creative ventures, remains tight-lipped about what lies ahead.
The puffer jacket worn as an accessory akin to the Victorian bustle; padded or not, his reinterpretation of Moncler’s skiing codes are meant to be worn like protective military garments.
Consumers of today have an ever-growing demand for new products and that has set a breakneck pace for fashion, with a turnover rate that many designers lament — and brand collaborations have seemed to only contribute to the creative burnout. But for Williams, creative partnerships can still be a way forward. “It allows [designers] to expand the borders of a brand’s design and explore new territories,” he says. “To learn from an institution like Moncler, there [has been] an exchange of ideas and also craftsmanship and techniques.”
Positively evident in the outcome of this exchange is the development of sustainable materials and fabrics, creating “unexpected products and a push for quality and research,” which drives both brands toward greater environmental consciousness, an idea that the fashion world has only recently begun confronting. In addition, Williams asserts that joint projects like Genius are “also opening opportunities for young designers to work with big houses,” a recent development that has significantly changed the landscape of fashion from its previous occupation with exclusivity and consequent unaccountability.
At the juncture of Williams’s creative partnership with Moncler, or the house’s overall intermingling with diverse designers and artists, is the idea of a perpetually unfinished fashion line. It is the theory that all Genius projects are ongoing dialogues, positioned somewhere in between ready-to-wear and couture, offering both everyday wear and more sculptural, haute over-the-top ones (even pet wear, Poldo Dog couture), that ensures there is a bit of everything for everyone — including its creators. “There is a freedom of exploration in creating the collection, as well as in the presentation part of it,” says Williams. “Working hand in hand with Moncler, we keep exploring the language we are creating together.”
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