University of Fashion Blog

Posts Tagged: "fashion designer"

CAN SELF-TAUGHT FASHION DESIGNERS MAKE IT TO THE TOP?

Designer Matthew M. Williams & wife Jennifer (Photo credit: Alyx Instagram)

At UoF, we get lots of inquiries from our subscribers asking, “is it possible to make it to the top as a designer in the fashion industry as a self-taught designer or without a formal degree? The answer is yes!

Meet Matthew M. Williams, who on June 15th was named creative director at Givenchy, the 68-year old French heritage brand, founded by Hubert de Givenchy in 1952. Upon Givenchy’s  retirement (1995), the house has had a parade of notable creative directors, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien McDonald, Ricardo Tisci and Clare Wright Keller.

So how Williams an admitted self-taught designer land such a plum job? Let’s take a look at his backstory.

No Fashion School Training

Born in Chicago in 1986, Williams was brought up in Pismo Beach surrounded by California skate culture. With an appreciation for the arts but nothing more than a high school sculpture class under his belt, he enrolled at University of California, Santa Barbara to study art, but dropped out after only one semester. Finding a sales position at Maxfield’s, a high-end L.A. boutique, he was exposed to some of the best designer brands like, Dries Van Noten, Maison Margiela, Raf Simmons, Rick Owens and Commes des Garçons. These edgy brands helped shape his appreciation for tailoring and craftsmanship. 

Networking is Key

Eventually, Williams moved to New York to attend fashion school, but was rejected by Parsons. A self-confessed club kid, Williams got lucky. He met and dated Lady Gaga and began collaborating on her videos, stage shows and her on and offstage costumes. Once in that circle, Williams was able to meet famed photographer, Nick Knight, who worked with generations of fashion talent, including Yohji Yamamoto and Alexander McQueen.

Hard Work & Passion

Williams met Kanye West and became art director for his touring productions and album designs. It was there that he witnessed Kanye’s work ethic, his drive and his passion. While at Kanye, Williams was introduced to Virgil Abloh, Kanye’s then creative director (before Abloh founded Off-White and became creative director at Louis Vuitton).

By being in Kanye’s inner circle, Williams, Abloh, along with Heron Preston and Justin Saunders, founded a self-styled art and DJ collective called Been Trill, and created a social media hyped streetwear line with tons of celebrity connections. However short-lived that venture was, it lasted long enough to help define Williams’ aesthetic grounded in luxe streetwear.

Getting the Right Backer Helps

With help from 30-year streetwear veteran Luca Benini, founder of Slam Jam, Williams opened his NYC studio in 2015 on St. Mark’s Place and debuted his haute streetwear line, 1017 ALYX 9SM, named for Williams’ birth date 10/17, his daughter Alyx and 9SM, his St. Mark’s address.

His look? Tailored suits & trousers, chunky boots, signature Six Flags-inspired rollercoaster buckle belts and cross body bags, all workwear-inspired with street-smart, hard-edge military-esque undertones.

ALYX womenswear (Photo credit: alyxstudio Instagram)

ALYX womenswear (Photo credit: alyxstudio Instagram)

ALYX Six Flags rollercoaster-inspired belt buckle (Photo credit: alyxstudio Instagram)

ALYX mid-sock boot (Photo credit: alyxstudio Instagram)

In 2017, Williams added menswear and accessories to the mix. He has also done collaborations with Nike, Dior, Moncler, and Mackintosh.

ALYX men’s suit and matching crossover bag (Photo credit: alyxstudio Instagram)

ALYX jewelry (Photo credit: alyxstudio Instagram)

Williams x Nike collaboration in 2019 (Photo credit: alyxstudio Instagram)

Being at the Right Place at the Right Time

In 2016, Williams got on the radar of Sidney Toledano, the chief executive of the LVMH Fashion Group, the largest luxury conglomerate in the world, when he was chosen as one of 8 finalists for the LVMH Prize. In another strategic move, Williams debuted his collection at Paris Fashion Week in 2018 to enormous hype. In 2019, he created a buckle for his friend Kim Jones artistic director of another LVMH holding, Christian Dior Men.

Apparently LVMH was mining for another master of the high-low street-luxe hybrid for their Givenchy label, like that of Abloh and Jones. Alas, Williams fit the bill. According to a recent article in The New York Times, “the future of luxury will have less to do with a designer’s ability to cut a pattern than their ability to amalgamate the broader cultural moment.” Here at UoF we say a designer should be able to do both!

As formally-trained designer myself and the owner of my eponymous clothing line in the 80s, and now founder of UoF, I believe that there is no single sure fire way of making it in the fashion industry. However, I think there are a combination of things and attributes that are key to making it in our industry: A Good Taste Level, A Unique Design Philosophy, Hard Work, Ability to Network, Business Savvy, Appreciation for the Craft and last but not least…Luck!

Other Self-taught Famous Designers Who’ve Succeeded  

In the researching and writing of my book, Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry, Second Edition, I was surprised to learn of so many famous designers in history, who had either never attended fashion school, or did but dropped out. One thing is for sure though, an appreciation for the craft is critical, whether you learn it at fashion school or via the University of Fashion.

The list is long (91) so here goes:

André Courrèges

Anne Marie Beretta

Azzedine Alaïa

Bob Mackie

Bonnie Cashin

Calvin Klein

Carlos Miele

Carol Lim & Humberto Leon (Opening Ceremony)

Carolina Herrera

Charles Frederick Worth

Charles James

Charlotte Ronson

Christian Dior

Christian Lacroix

Christopher Bailey

Coco Chanel

Cristóbal Balenciaga

Diane Von Furstenberg

Donatello Versace

Eileen Fisher

Elie Tahari

Elsa Schiaparelli

Emanuel Ungaro

Emilio Pucci

Franco Moschino

Geoffrey Beene

Gianfranco Ferre

Gianni Versace

Giorgio Armani

Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo

Gloria Vanderbilt

Guy Laroche

Guy Paulin

Halston

Hedi Slimane

Hubert de Givenchy

Issey Miyake

Jean Muir

Jean Patou

Jean Paul Gaultier

Jeanne Lanvin

Jeanne Paquin

Jessica Simpson

Jil Sander

John Varvatos

Joseph Altazurra

Karl Lagerfeld

Kate and Laura Mulleavy (Rodarte)

Kenneth Cole

L’Wren Scott

Laura Ashley

Liliana Orcas Casabal (Morgane Le Fay)

Lily Daché

Lily Pulitzer

Liz Claiborne

Madame Grés

Madeleine Vionnet

Marcus Wainwright & David Neville (Rag & Bone)

Mary Kate & Ashley Olson (The Row)

Michael Kors

Miuccia Prada

Molyneux

Nina Ricci

Nino Cerutti

Oleg Cassini

Olivier Theyskens

Oscar de la Renta

Paco Rabanne

Paul Poiret

Pauline Trigére

Perry Ellis

Phillip Lim

Pierre Cardin

Rachel Roy

Raf Simons

Ralph Lauren

Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons)

Richard Tyler

Ron Chereskin

Rudi Gernreich

Sir Hardy Amies

Sonia Rykiel

Thierry Mugler

Thom Browne

Tom Ford

Tommy Hilfiger

Tory Burch

Vera Wang

Victoria Beckham

Virgil Abloh

Vivienne Westwood