Matthew Williams fused heritage and modernity for Givenchy SS22
The Californian designer demonstrated his ability to bring together ostensible opposites in his first physical show for the storied French house.
Images courtesy of Givenchy
Matthew Williams’ first-ever physical show for Givenchy was magnificent in scale. Not only in terms of the setting — the Arena La Défense, made to resemble a cross between Dr. Strangelove’s war room and a UFO — but also in terms of ideas. It was an exhibition of Matthew’s ambition, and of his ability to find a synergy between his vision and the house’s legacy.
In many ways Matthew is an archetypal modern designer, bearing closer resemblance to an intellectual and theorist than to a traditional couturier. He has an uncanny ability to synthesise the current moment, turning fashion into a means of reflecting and commenting on the conditions of modern life. Armed with the expertise of Givenchy’s ateliers — with the help of whom he’ll be staging his couture debut in January — he’s been able to both breathe new life into the heritage house, and to allow fashion’s past to inform his distinct, contemporary perspective. “I do what I love and put it out there,” he said backstage after the show. “I really enjoy cross-pollinating everything, taking in everything from all these different worlds and mixing it together. It was really about taking all these elements of myself and Givenchy, making it as personal as possible while still respecting the codes of the house.”
These layers were there in the clothes themselves; corsets became tailored jackets; tailored jackets cutaway in layers to reveal frills of tulle or splinters of neoprene; or else those tailored jackets faded away into skirts; shoes were elongated into trousers; collars sprouted collars that resembled Elizabethan ruffles; graphic prints were rendered in couture-level details of intricacy, and couture fabrics and fabrications were utilised for simplicity, minimalism and ease.
The press release described it as a “mix of the radical and the puritanical” — and this was most evident in the work of the artist Josh Smith, who Matthew collaborated with on a series of looks throughout the collection. At their most successful, they saw the work of Josh Smith become part of the clothes themselves — not just printed, but embedded and stitched into the design. Elsewhere, Josh’s sculptures became bags and they added an air of the gothic – creepy pumpkins, reapers, bottles refashioned as luxury accessories.
The final looks, a series of all-black then all-white closed the show out. These refined and reduced the plethora of ideas presented throughout the rest of the collection, distilling them down to that sweet spot where minimalism and modernism, complexity and austerity, extravagance and ease all meet.