When Matthew Williams launched his brand 1017 ALYX 9SM with the A/W 15 womenswear collection, he chose to collaborate with image-maker and SHOWstudio director Nick Knight on a fashion film, with an accompanying catalogue by Paul Hetherington. In the years since, artistic partnerships have remained at the core of the men's and women's label, born out of undercurrent, subcultural references. For the latest A/W 23 womenswear collection, first teased during the menswear show in January, artworks by the Texan artist Mark Flood perforate the clothes, from custom graphic printed dresses and accessories through to fabric treatments which echo the very surfaces of Flood's canvases. Here, Williams tells SHOWstudio editor Hetty Mahlich more.
Williams had been drawn to Mark Flood's work long before he came to design the 1017 ALYX 9SM A/W 23 collection. 'I like art that makes me emotional. [Mark's work] evokes emotion within me', he explains. The Houston-based artist plays with typography and text, themes of American society and identity in his paintings, subverting images and slogans, also using paint to create what Williams sees as windows into the soul, of sorts. 'They become time capsules to moments in time. The way he uses text and language is really unique, and brave. They feel really poignant and make a commentary on the world and us as people. Some are really light, others are like "Fuck! That's a hard truth I have to live with."'
A collaboration came up naturally. 1017 ALYX 9SM is based in Milan, also the location for a retrospective of Flood's work recently held at the Spazio Maiocchi. Williams has ties to the art and design space via his business partner Luca Benini, co-founder of Slam Jam which also co-owns Spazio Maiocchi. So Williams decided to stage the brand's menswear show in January inside the gallery, building a catwalk framed by Flood's works hanging on the walls, which bled into the collection itself.
A combination of pieces from Flood's archive, together with specially produced graphics, are present in the Payton and Raya handbags, cowboy boots, hardware bunny accessories and ALYX's staple fabric treatment which this season draws from Flood's lace paintings and brush strokes. Leather accessories feature textured and hand-painted effects, together with prints from the Flood collaboration.
Williams describes the result as an 'immersive, well-rounded documentation of Mark's work, but also bringing it in through the lens that is ALYX. It becomes another interpretation of a lot of the material Mark has made. There's also a level of education, to show someone like Mark's work to younger generations who are interested in what I'm doing and paying attention to. That's something I'm here to do, is shine a light on artists I'm inspired by. At the end, I can't help that everything I do not have my handwriting in it, but it's really nice when I begin the concept with somebody that I really respect. It takes me into different zones, different places within my mind, and makes things that are not monotonous or boring.'
Despite continuing on the path of collaboration, Williams notes that nearly ten years into ALYX, he's at a different place than when he started. It's no longer about the kids he was surrounded by growing up in California, but where he is in his life today, and who surrounds him. The past two years have also had a significant effect on his design process. 'I've gotten much more used to solitude and this rhythm of isolation, because of the amount of work that I've had compounded with COVID. I've found a different type of inspiration within myself. You go through different periods in your life as a creative, and the one that I'm in now, is isolation.' The deeper, more personal narratives behind the collection, are for Willliams to know he says. 'But if people feel something when they engage with the work, then that's what I care about.'