The gritty glamour of kids, who’d hang out around train tracks and tag random things in graffiti, is an ideal particular to those who grew up in the 1990s. It’s an archetype Matthew M. Williams, 35, knows well, and one whose seduction has never left him. Those kids were cool, their style seemed effortless even if it wasn’t at all; it looked like they lived on the edge when, probably, they still had to be home for supper. The designer’s spring film for Givenchy triggered that nostalgia. Projecting the badass sensibility of ’90s adolescence onto the luxury stage, Williams portrayed a coarse teen attitude through the refined and hyper-polished Parisian lens of Givenchy.
Shot in a railyard you wouldn’t associate with the City of Light, the film interweaved images of the French capital’s Statue of Liberty replica and the Eiffel Tower, linking together the designer’s American background and Givenchy’s Parisian persuasion. Looking for ways of uniting the two, Williams called upon the Seattle-born, Mexico-based airbrush artist Chito to create illustrations for the collection. They had been executed by hand—and will also be in production, albeit not by the artist himself—observing the savoir-faire practices of the house. Evocative of graffiti art, Chito’s motifs manifested as cartoonish or emoji-like characters with a certain Mexican sensibility about them.
Raised in California, Mexican culture was a natural part of Williams’s childhood. “Chito is Mexican-American, as were most of my friends growing up. It’s something in my upbringing that I really appreciate and admire,” he said during an appointment in Givenchy’s showroom in Paris. Airbrushing, he explained, “hits a sweet spot for me, because growing up, I used to go to car shows with my dad. There would always be airbrushing on cars, and you’d have these memorial T-shirts made.” For Williams, the injection of childhood memories served to warm up the starkness of his industrial aesthetic, while retaining the countercultural toughness of the collection’s spirit.
The artworks—which featured throughout the collection, on backpacks, and on Rimowa luggage— entered into a natural conversation with the intricate textures, hardware, and industrial graphics that define the designer’s work both at Givenchy and his own label Alyx. Tailored jackets came with big, square velcro closures; a half-and-half blazer with a hard bottom mesh panel was so vigorous it sat like a corset, and spiderweb tops offered a hand-spun alternative to Williams’s latticed metal cage dresses.
He used a varsity jacket transformed into a little bolero as an illustration of the house’s dialogue with America, past and present. “The house has a great connection to America historically,” Williams said, referring to Hubert de Givenchy’s influence on Hollywood, “and these are the elements of America that are very inherent in me, with an elegance of Paris.” Most tantalizing was his jewelry. Inspired by Chito’s motifs, it took the form of big rings and prayer necklaces with colorful pendants that looked like something out of a candy shop, or a creepy fun fair, depending on the tint of your glasses.