French fashion label Givenchy announced on Monday morning that Matthew Williams, the founder of luxury streetwear label 1017 ALYX 9SM, will be the house’s new creative director. Williams is taking the reins from Clare Waight Keller, who stepped down from her role as artistic director in mid-April after three years at the helm.
Following the news of his appointment, a voice message from Williams was posted on Givenchy’s Instagram, over a stark black screen (not unlike the blacked-out Instagram posts in solidarity with Black Lives Matter last week).
After sharing that holding this position has been his lifelong dream — an opportunity that he’s worked toward “every day for 15 years” — the 34-year-old designer calls the appointment “bittersweet.” He says, “We’re living in unprecedented times in the world, and I just hope in some way that I can bring hope, and, you know, with my community and colleagues, create positive for our industry and for the world.” And while the meaning behind the latter half of his message is clear — his goal is to help bring about change in regard to the mistreatment and underrepresentation of Black people and people of colour in fashion — the fact that this open role went to a white man feels like a missed opportunity.
Many had hoped that the open seat left behind by Waight Keller, the first-ever female artistic director in Givenchy’s 68-year history, would go to a person of colour, more specifically, a Black woman. Instead, after three years of attempting to get back to the house that Audrey Hepburn made famous with Waight Keller, it seems that Givenchy wants to move in the direction it took during Riccardo Tisci’s 12-year tenure as creative director. Choosing a modern, streetwear designer like Williams, who’s worked closely with the likes of Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and Virgil Abloh, makes sense. However, given that streetwear is largely influenced by Black culture, yet dominated in the fashion landscape by white designers, we can’t help but think that uplifting a Black streetwear designer would’ve sent a better, more meaningful message to the industry, not to mention the Black community.
Idk how to feel about Matthew Williams becoming the head of Givenchy. Was anyone black not an option? Was a black woman not an option? Why do these fashion houses refuse to put anyone black at the head of a house?— - (@bennettajarrett) June 15, 2020
Similar to other fashion brands, Givenchy shared its support for the Black community via Instagram earlier this month. “Together we stand against racism #BlackLivesMatter,” the brand posted. The photo’s caption reads: “Givenchy supports the fight against social and racial injustice – a small step in recognising that by standing together we can build a new start.”
This appointment, even if it leads to new, more modern collections for the house of Givenchy, proves that the aforementioned message of support could very well be nothing more than an obligatory social media post — something to satisfy followers and consumers. Given that rumours of Williams’ move to Givenchy have been swirling since April, it could also be true that this deal was on the table long before George Floyd’s death. Even so, it shouldn’t take international protests to prove that Black people are disproportionately represented in fashion.
In a statement, Williams followed the brand’s lead: “I am looking forward to working together with its ateliers and teams, to move it into a new era, based on modernity and inclusivity.”
And maybe — hopefully — he will. We’ll see when he shows his first collection for the house during Paris Fashion Week this October. Even so, one thing still rings true: When given the opportunity to hire a Black designer for its highest creative position, Givenchy failed to do so.