Matthew M. Williams, the designer behind Alyx—winner of last year’s Highsnobiety Crowns award for Best Breakthrough Brand—is low-key one of the most talented people creating clothing right now. After launching his womenswear line in 2014, Williams finally made the leap towards menswear for the Fall/Winter 2017 season.
Some of Alyx’s best-known products include screenprinted Alpha Industries bomber jackets, which have been washed to give them a frayed and distressed appeal. The label’s Rollercoaster Belt is a piece of tactical luxury that gleans inspiration from military web belts and the safety harnesses worn on theme park rides. Design details like Bic lighter caps are repurposed on Vans Old Skools and tube socks, telling a story of reuse. Sustainability is something Williams is especially interested in. Alyx Visual, a line of high-quality knitwear and T-shirts, only uses recycled cotton fibers for its wares.
“That’s something I think about too: how much of what I’m making is needed and necessary? Am I making things in an ethical way? What’s the procedure, what materials are used? I’m looking a lot into sustainable fabrics and sustainable supply chains,” says Williams in his 2017 Highsnobiety magazine cover story. “Not as a poster boy for sustainability or the environment, but as a conscious human being. It’s hard to ignore that there’s loads of shit being made, and people that are just being mindless consumers. I don’t want to be a brand that’s into that.”
Pulling inspiration from classic menswear—like Alyx’s Belgian-inspired slip-on loafers and a Mackintosh collaboration mixing the British heritage brand’s waterproof fabric with distressed dyeing techniques, appeal to a cross-section of celebrities from Travis Scott to Bella Hadid. Williams’ former client, Kanye West, has even been spotted wearing one of Alyx’s Chest Rigs, a front-facing pouch that looks like the hybrid of a bum bag and a military vest.
That technocratic utilitarian design language caught the attention of Nike, who tapped Williams for an upcoming Nike x MMW capsule collection, which you can get a first look at in our exclusive editorial. Featuring Williams’ initials, MMW, the designer transforms track pants into calculated climbing pants, translating details like his rollercoaster-inspired buckles into a sportier context.
“You need functionality in multiple areas in a training collection because we know it won’t only be used in the gym," says Kurt Parker, Nike VP of Apparel Design in a statement from the brand. "For example, you need pockets, and you need elements that are detachable and adaptable."
Williams' penchant for military vests is similarly channelled into a pouch-laden vest, maintaining an air of athleticism while still exhibiting the designer’s signature dark energy. On the one hand, these are clothes that serve a purpose, and on the other, they could be a vehicle for tactically stylish self-expression.
The collection is largely inspired by last year's Advanced Apparel Exploration (AAE) 1.0 label, which sought to merge computational design and generative technology with apparel basics like T-shirts and hoodies. For the Nike x MMW line, data from Atlas maps relaying key heat and sweat zones factored into play, as well as areas that required a greater degree of motion. Williams manifests the data into ergonomic clothing that looks as futuristic as it feels.
“What computational design and computer data can offer is really the future of design,” says Williams in a statement provided by Nike. “It allows us to see things or take things further than we might otherwise. It helps to create a different perspective that we can build around. Working in tandem—with data and emotion—is super interesting.”
Indeed, what Williams understands is that data can only take design so far—it requires human nuance to extrapolate the intricacies that distinguish pure performance-driven technical garments from purposefully-designed objects of desire. Williams' painstaking attention-to-detail not only extends to the clothing, but even to the accessories. A gym towel is reinvented with straps that allow it to hang from a pair of shorts—ideal for running and other on-the-go activities. Even the Nike Dri-Fit sock is reinvented with a playful second layer, mimicking the feel of dual baselayers while providing a pragmatic moisture-wicking function.
“You need human beings to still figure out how to interpret data in a great way," continues Williams. "The storytelling of how the product links to its use and bring an emotion to it into — tug on the heartstrings a little bit. That's where I see my role.”
The Nike x MMW collection releases on July 12.
Now check out the latest collection from Matthew Williams' other line, Alyx.