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Matthew M. Williams Unveils a Partnership with Artist Josh Smith at Givenchy

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Matthew M. Williams Unveils a Partnership with Artist Josh Smith at Givenchy

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Fashion designers are coming out of the pandemic looking not only for new ways of working, but new moods to reflect the purgatory-like state of late 2021. Matthew M. Williams has found both at Givenchy with the help of the American artist Josh Smith, whose ceramic sculptures and Grim Reaper paintings are rendered in vibrant, joyous colors. Together, they’ve translated the happy-freaky mood of Smith’s artistic practice to Williams’s spring 2022 collection to be presented in Paris this evening. 

“Collaboration and dialogue with other artists is a great way to bring the work to a new place,” said Williams over a Zoom call with Smith. “Josh’s basket weaving, wood work, and different source materials were great starting points for me and led the collection into a really special and unique place.”

Smith and Williams in the Givenchy atelier, surrounded by accessories made with a silkscreen designed by Smith. The gasoline canister is a rendition of Smith’s 2014 ceramic work Untitled. Photo: Courtesy of Givenchy

Even in the small preview seen here, the tonal shift in Williams’s Givenchy is evident. The most obvious change? A lot less black and a lot more color, with Givenchy logos and motifs pulled from the psychedelic palette of Smith’s Reaper paintings. Williams also recreated specific pieces from Smith’s studio in New York, like an art handler vest that’s been made in classic tailoring material and a simple mesh hat. “Everything in the collection, from the embroideries to the trim, is all inspired and from source material that Josh created with me or gave to me,” Williams said. 

“I’m always looking for something to take me out of my routine,” Smith said of the partnership, which was encouraged by Williams’s girlfriend Marlene Zwirner, a director at David Zwirner gallery who works with Smith. “There is a lot to be gained artistically for both of us, and the reason I wanted to do this was to learn and to feel a different way of working and of generating and forming ideas.”

The grim reaper and a demon basketball, motifs pulled from Smith’s artworks, are transformed into Givenchy accessories Photo: Courtesy of Givenchy

Smith and Williams met about eight months before they started seriously planning this collaboration. “I went to Josh’s studio and spent time there for a couple of weeks. We hung out, listened to music, he showed me his work and things that inspired him. I showed him fabrics and materials and projects that I had been inspired by and been dreaming of doing,” Williams said. “I love how honest his work is and how obsessive it is to paint the same motif over and over and over again. He has his own way, a really efficient way of working where he’s pulling from the environment around him. It’s so textural and American; that’s something that I really connect with.”

Williams fitting a lilac piece in the Givenchy atelier—purple is Smith’s favorite color Photo: Courtesy of Givenchy
Photo: Courtesy of Givenchy
Photo: Courtesy of Givenchy

After spending time in the artist’s Bushwick studio, hundreds of items were shipped to the Givenchy ateliers in Paris and each created separately with the other in mind. In the lead up to the show, they’ve been working side-by-side (both wearing Givenchy) in Paris to make final adjustments and generate new ideas. “We’re both learning things that we could apply going forward,” said Smith, “and what I know about Matt is that he makes a lot of monochromatic, no-nonsense, fashion-forward pieces, and in this partnership we’re trying to make the same thing with flair and even a little more general humanity, without losing the austerity for sure.”

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