Williams was born in Chicago, raised in Pismo Beach, California, and now lives in Ferrara, Italy (where ALYX's production takes place). His aesthetic captures the zeitgeist, with 1017 ALYX 9SM referencing security through Matthew Williams' design innovations (who could have predicted rollercoaster buckles becoming a trend?) and treading a line between luxe streetwear, high fashion, and fetish-esque leatherwear with aplomb.
If you're new to the designer's work, here are a few essential things to know about Matthew Williams.
He's worked with Alexander McQueen, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West
Matthew Williams' resumé reads like a who's who of pop culture and fashion. He worked with Lady Gaga at the Haus of Gaga for her first world tour in 2009, and was credited with designing stage props such as the "disco stick." Gaga (who also dated Williams and referred to him as "Dada") described him as "the inspiration of the beginning of my fashion."
Williams also worked with the late Alexander McQueen, as well as Kanye West. On working with West, Willams said in an interview with Dazed, "Kanye is number one. He is the person that gave me my first break. I created a suit jacket for him to wear to the Grammys when I was 21 and he asked me what I did, and I told him I was working at this clothing brand. He then asked me how much I got paid, to which I replied, 'Nothing.' And he said, 'Okay, I’m going to give you double nothing to come work with me.' The next day I was on a plane with him to Japan. I owe him everything. He’s been an amazing friend and mentor."
Years later, West would make help make 1017 ALYX 9SM a must-have brand after he was spotted sporting its signature chest rig while out in New York City.
He founded Been Trill with Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston
Internet hype as we know it today arguably had its genesis with the social media-driven phenomenon that was #BEEN #TRILL. Williams, Heron Preston, Justin Saunders, YWP, and Virgil Abloh launched the self-styled art and DJ collective in 2012, and its onslaught of lo-fi Tumblr-inspired streetwear courted controversy, mostly due to the prices, which peaked with $100 shoelaces.
The downfall of Been Trill is a cautionary tale in relying too much on social media buzz. Once described on these pages as "an embarrassing footnote in streetwear history," the brand was dissed by A$AP Rocky and sold to US retailer PacSun as its founders moved on to their next creative projects.
Amusingly, Williams, Preston, and Abloh were reunited at Paris Fashion Week in June, with Abloh's monumental debut for Louis Vuitton and Heron Preston's SS19 show both happening at the same time, and 1017 ALYX 9SM's collection appearing a few days later.
He's obsessed with subcultures
Williams, like designers Helmut Lang and Raf Simons, uses his brand to deftly explore the visual codes of the world's most interesting subcultures.
Early 1017 ALYX 9SM seasons took inspiration from skateboarding (Williams grew up in California, after all), Berlin's techno scene, and Rotterdam's tracksuited gabber kids. In an interview with Highsnobiety, Williams reflected on how subcultures have changed from the ’80s and ’90s: "I think that subcultures still exist now, but in different ways. I’m sure they exist online — like there are kids in Japan that are super into something that someone in Scandinavia is also into, and they talk online and maybe meet up."
The brand's name comes from a personal place
ALYX (pronounced "a-leeks") is named after Williams' daughter. However, a few weeks ahead of its first-ever runway show in Paris, the brand announced it was changing its name to 1017 ALYX 9SM, with the reason behind the change also highly personal.
The number 1017 is a reference to Williams' birthday, October 17, and 9SM is an abbreviation of the brand's founding studio address in Saint Mark’s Place, New York City. Reflecting on the brand's personal nature, in 2016 Williams told Slam Jam Socialism, "I just want ALYX to be perceived as really my first project, which is why we called our first collection "My First Time." It’s because it marks the beginning of finally doing my own thing."
He was tapped by Kim Jones for Dior's SS19 collection
Along with street artist KAWS and Yoon Ahn of AMBUSH, artistic director Kim Jones commissioned Williams to contribute to his inaugural vision for menswear at Dior, creating a series of iconic rollercoaster belt buckles. The two designers have known each other for years. "He made my wedding tuxedo and my wife's wedding dress, and he's always been a mentor of mine," Williams said of Jones in an interview with Grailed.
Synonymous with 1017 ALYX 9SM's visual codes of utility and safety, Williams' buckles were inspired by a trip to California theme park Six Flags Magic Mountain. His designs cropped up across accessories in Dior's SS19 collection, including on belts and caps, the latter of which was debuted by Skepta ahead of the show.
Aside from proving that designers can collaborate openly rather than just ripping each other off, Williams' industrial design language added a whole new dimension to Jones' comparatively light, bucolic tailoring.
He's big into sustainability
“I believe that there are too many clothes on this Earth. If I am going to take the responsibility of making clothing, I need to make something that deserves to exist,” the designer told GQ Style in an interview in 2017.
Williams' preference for eco-friendly design has manifested in a number of ways. Firstly by designing garments that are expected to last a lifetime (e.g. the black treated bonded cotton hooded coat, a collaboration with Mackintosh) and secondly by enforcing eco-friendly production processes.
Following the brand's SS18 collection, Williams announced diffusion line ALYX Visual, a collection of garments made exclusively with upcycled cotton-rich yarn from pre-used clothing.