Conor O’Callaghan introduces the streetwear giant ALYX, from Matthew Williams, the design genius behind early Lady Gaga and Kanye West outfits. His new venture fuses tailoring and streetwear in a contemporaneous alchemy.
A safety buckle is an unlikely fashion statement. But it’s got multi-million dollar potential. Take it from Matthew Williams, founder of ALYX, a brand synonymous with its industrial and utilitarian design. Inspired by a trip to California theme park Six Flags, the buckle is made by a company that makes car engines in Austria, adding to the quality and industrial vibe that ALYX gives off but also the price with the belts averaging at €300. With revenues doubling year on year since its launch, the unlikely accessory became a hit.
Born in Chicago but raised in California he was strongly influenced by L.A skate and street culture. His introduction to high fashion was unorthodox – coming to Europe to play soccer and ending up interning for a brand his soccer coach owned.
He became the stylist for the on and off-stage personas of both Lady Gaga and Kanye West. He designed many of their most memorable outfits, often in collaboration with brands. In 2012, he founded the streetwear collective #BEEN#TRILL with Heron Preston and Virgil Abloh which was heavily involved in the genesis of internet hype.
ALYX puts contemporary spins on streetwear – from sportswear to suiting, the intent is to imbue the clothes with a sense of urban luxe, a mix of polish and grit that encapsulates the spirit of his American upbringing. “Fashion is a great time capsule of the world,” he told British Vogue. “Collections capture how the world is during that period – showing what everybody’s feeling.”
Williams has many connections in the fashion world being a friend of Kim Jones, the current creative director at Dior Homme. It was only inevitable that they would join forces and for Dior Homme’s SS19 collection, William’s lent his expertise, incorporating his famous utility buckle into belts, caps, and backpacks. “I like the way that Matt pulls things together from every part of his life and makes them his own,” Jones told British Vogue.
This brought two very different styles into one collection and helped to firmly establish Williams and his brand ALYX in the industry of luxury fashion.
In the 2010s, the worlds of luxury fashion collided with streetwear – entering hoodies and trainers into a trillion dollar conversation. Brands like ALYX, Off-White, and Heron Preston enjoyed a meteoric rise to success, placing them in the same arena as historic luxury houses, showing alongside them at Paris Fashion Week.
ALYX’s collaborations with Nike helped to introduce more people to the brand as it was more affordable than Moncler or Dior and most of the collection was easy to wear being Athleisure, a type of fashion that grew popular in the 2010s as gym culture grew.
In 2017 Williams moved to Ferrara, Italy, in order to set up the more environmentally friendly production of ALYX products. Sustainability is one of the company’s main pillars. “When I began the brand there was a lot of buzz around [sustainability], so I’ve kind of embraced it. We have the up-cycled cotton, recycled nylon from fishing line from Scandinavia and then this season we’re launching a special leather that’s been developed where the dying process uses CO2 gas – that’s the most sustainable dying process of leather,” he explained of ALYX’s efforts to bring sustainable practices to luxury fashion,’ he explained at a GQ event last year.
ALYX has upcoming projects such as plans with Vibram to give shoe sole repair kits to kids in skateparks teaching sustainability to the upcoming generations. Like Williams has proved with ALYX, you have to start from the ground up but the sky’s the limit.