A Different Givenchy

But is Matthew Williams’s remake better?

Understandable it is that Matthew Williams took the reigns of Givenchy during tough times. But Mr Williams, is not the only designer dealing with difficult conditions, as we have been repeatedly reading. If there’s anything that could be more advantageous to him is that he’s working for an LVMH brand, with better resources than others not operating under such a massive luxury group. Yet, Mr Williams’s debut for Givenchy isn’t quite the attention-grabber that it was when John Galliano or Alexander McQueen or even Clare Waight Keller debuted with the house. Or has installations of not-quite-proven designers at major luxury brands really lost their spark and pull?

Givenchy has, for some time, lost the cool (is that even relevant now?) that Riccardo Tisci—presently at Burberry—brought to the label during his tenure (2005–2017). His successor Ms Waight Keller, despite some compelling output, did not quite restore the buzz Mr Tisci generated. We’re not sure if short-time royal Meghan Markle—and occasional Givenchy customer—brought something to the brand or took away from it. She’s now a considerable distance from the heart of French couture, in Santa Barbara, California, 160-odd miles away from Los Angeles, where Mr Williams is from (actually, he’s originally from Evanston, Illinois). Mr Williams is the first American designer to head Givenchy, and a part of the close circle of LA creatives that orbit around California’s leading design lights, Virgil Abloh and Kanye West, many with the ambition to design for European houses.

Before the showing of Mr Williams’s designs, it would not have been unreasonable to think that Givenchy might take in this collective American design aesthetic (also reflected in the art and DJing quartet Been Trill — made up of Mr Abloh, Heron Preston, Justin Saunders, and Mr Williams). The work would generally spring from street wear and would be Instagram-worthy, and it did, which informed everything in the collection, from the suits to the accessories. And befittingly, Givenchy now appears to reach out to the fashionistas of Calabasas, Kardashian land. It is getting back its K-clan.

The collection started with suits—somewhat interesting sleeve treatment and a semi-rigidity of line that was reminiscent of early Armani. And then it moved into the territory that would delight beauty moguls and the star models who can’t wait to shed catwalk clothes for those that will prompt the media to say how they “stun”: long halter tops with a hooker vibe and knotted at the waist so that the rest of the fabric falls to the floor between the legs (reminding us of the displays in the fabric shops of People’s Park), sheer tops to reveal bandeau-as-bra inside, and apron-dresses with all the hardware that would make a technician think of his unkept worktop. Avant-garde (in the euphemistic sense) came in the form of what might be a giant, upside-down container for French fries worn as a top.

And there’s the eveningwear: akin to what pop-starlets might wear to the Met Gala so as to secure a spot on the worst-dressed list: slinky numbers with massive cutout in the rear ( and if that wasn’t enough, the elbows as well) to better reveal waist-high thongs, as well as unimaginative diaphanous dresses to make a statement about panty choices. Street thinking and VMA red carpet reigned. Who cares about what Meghan Markle wishes to wear? All these clearly appeared as Givenchy for the hip-hop/rock crowd, for Mr Williams’s buddies and their wives, and for their coterie of luxury fashion-wearing friends for whom fashion has to look this naff. Is this what Matthew Williams meant when he said, on the Givenchy website, that “it’s about the humanity in luxury?”

Photos: Givenchy

Will We See The Chest Rig At Givenchy?

Now that we know Matthew Williams will be heading the design studio of Givenchy, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the brand’s accessory business will be given a massive boost

 

Alyx chest rigAlyx leather chest rig. Photo: 1017 Alyx 9SM

The news that Matthew Williams will be installed at Givenchy was received with surprise and nonchalance. Before that is explored, the burning question is, will we be seeing Givenchy chest rigs?

Prior to Virgil Abloh’s assorted holsters for Louis Vuitton (early 2017), there was one bag worn close to the body that true street-style aficionados adopted with such fervour, it positioned its American creator Matthew Williams on the path of success that, this week, culminated in the Givenchy appointment, making him the second designer from the US to lead French maisons owned by parent company LVMH.

Not so long ago, Mr Williams, was not widely known, except his “luxury streetwear” brand 1017 Alyx 9SM. Fashion insiders know of his work for Lady Gaga and Kanye West (thought to be his mentor) and Virgil Abloh, but those with a weakness for expensive T-shirts and accessories inspired by utility gear and military wear, took a shine to Alyx, as it is mostly known.

The chest rig, probably last seen in the ’70s television series S.W.A.T. (or the 2017 remake), made such an unlikely impact on the accessories/bag market that suddenly many across high-low price points started to appear. Even Mr Williams began doing versions for Moncler on one end, and Nike on the other. In time, the chest rig was such a thing, it spawn the trend of oversized pouch pockets on the centre-front of shirts and T-shirts.

Alyx beltThe belt buckle that became highly covetable. Photo: 1017 Alyx 9SM

The chest rig, still often sold out, isn’t the only accessory associated with Mr Williams. There is that buckle inspired by those used on roller-coaster safety belts. His version—secure-looking and unmistakable—has become such a signature of the Alyx brand and so admired that a variation of it was introduced at Kim Jones’s Dior debut—a much-lauded collaboration between the two men. The belt buckle would appear not just on ceintures, but also on bags, in particular the Saddle, then introduced for guys. The Alyx buckle, in the mean time, was widely imitated, from London to Tokyo.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that Givenchy would offer Mr Williams the creative director position. Reports had suggested that his predecessor Clare Waight Keller was not able to create the kind of sales behemoth LVMH was hoping and waiting to see. It is known that accessories are vital to a brand’s must-be-staggering profits, and Ms Keller, in the three years with the house, had not produced one that could be remembered, that could delight the tills. Mr Williams might just be the guy to excite LVMH’s CFO.

Interestingly, Matthew William’s debut collection in 2015 was womenswear. It is mostly now forgotten, as his accessories and subsequent men’s line eventually overshadowed the former. It is not certain if Givenchy chose him because of his flair with accessories or because he could give their ready-to-wear a new spin (for now, let’s not wonder what’s going to happen to the haute couture). If, as we’re led to believe by LVMH’s own Virgil Abloh, street wear is dead (or will die), what is Givenchy doing aligning themselves with a street wear designer, even one this well regarded? Perhaps, having made Mr Abloh king, LVMH cannot afford to let street style meet its predicted demise.

Pocket/Storage, Centre-Front

We may not be marsupials, but some of us do need a pouch right in the middle of our chest for things that need to be reached easily. Or, quickly. Or, so it seems

 

Chest Nike pic 4Nikelab iPSA Air cotton T-shirt with nylon pouch pocket

By Raiment Young

I am not sure how much stuff an average guy carries with him on a daily basis, but I am beginning to suspect that the quantity is not insignificant, based on the receptacles now beginning to appear on clothes and those that are designed to be worn in front, across the thorax, above the belly button. It’s not exactly the best place for anything since anything placed against the chest tends to trap heat, but I am not an expert on thoracic needs, utilitarian or decorative.

Sartorially, bags for the centre of chests, if I am correct, first appeared in Matthew Williams’s 1017 Alyx 9SM collection of last spring—chest strap-ons so desirable that the bags turned out to be Alyx’s best-selling accessory. Mr Williams, a Californian football-player-turned-designer and a member of the inner circle of Lady Gaga and Kanye West (he was once their stylist), is also a consultant at Kim Jones’s Dior, where he has created a signature buckle for the house.

Chest rig P1bZara polyester canvas chest rig

Around the same time of the Alyx bags, Junya Watanabe also introduced a few of his own, worn in his characteristic anti-OG ways: outdoor gear with beach wear! Mr Watanabe’s chest bags, as the label calls it, are pretty serious stuff: they come with what NS men would know as webbing, which is what I like about these bags. Unlike so many from other brands that I have tried on, the straps of these are designed to go over the shoulder and cross the back, with no discomfort under the arm, as felt by those that follow the shape of the armhole.

As it turns out, these bags do have a name—they are known as chest rigs and, like the field pack, is associated with the army, especially land forces. According to military historians, the chest rig can be traced to those used during the Vietnam war. Apparently, the canvas rigs that were worn then were Chinese-made and mainly for carrying magazines supplied with the main rifle issued, the notorious AK-47. American forces were known to pilfer some of these chest rigs so that they could be copied or worn to blend in.

Chest Timberland P5.jpgTimberland ‘Ecoriginal’ anorak

As with many things of military origin, the bags may not be the most comfortable to strap on, even if they have been adapted for leisure use. Which perhaps prompted garment designers to adopt the idea on clothes instead. I don’t mean one little pocket on the shirt that looks like a cyclop’s eye; I mean big, full-on pouches, capacious enough for you to put smartphone, battery pack, and everything else that would usually go into a bump-bag. One of the earliest I saw was Nikelab’s T-shirt from the iSPA Air project (top-most pic). A fairly heavy-ply cotton tee, the front is affixed with a massive flapped, pouch pocket (as large as those on cargo pants, if you ask me) that comes with a drawstring to secure its contents. That it is available with the inconspicuous yellow pocket (there’s a black version too) that almost obscures the Swoosh adds to its appeal.

Not long after, I came across the Timberland ‘Ecoriginal’ anorak (above). Now, this would not normally have made me bat an eyelid since its pocket would not be unusual for such an outerwear. But, look twice I did because of the size of the pocket and its placement—right there in the middle of the chest. Made of 100% recycled polyester, including recycled cords and buttons (the eco-warrior among you would delight to know), the anorak comes in fashionable colour blocking that, to me, is rather unusual for Timberland garments not destined for Japan.

Chest rig P3.jpgChest rigs worn by both men and women

The first off-catwalk piece that caught my eye was a small Nike chest rig worn on a woman at a private event hosted by Bangkok’s coolest home-grown sneaker store Upperground (by the same people who started Carnival in Siam Square). What I found exceptional was that rather than play up the chest rig’s military beginnings, the woman turned it into a study in contrast, teaming the bag with a simple tank top and very feminine, full maxi-skirt. Quite the opposite of how Mackenzie Davis-as-Grace wore hers in Terminator: Dark Fate. Not long after, amid the unrest that took place in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, I saw a guy crossing a not-yet-tumultuous Hennessy Road wearing a Junya Watanabe chest rig with the stylish confidence of someone with a fanny pack strapped across the torso instead. On the multiple straps of the bag, he had assorted carabiners attached, reminding me of those seen on the accessories of White Mountaineering.

On home turf, my encounter with a chest rig-wearing individual was at the recent Club 21 Bazaar. The guy, accompanied by a male friend, stood out, not only for his effortless stylishness, but also for the fact that his bag was able to pass security without being wrapped in that awful plastic bag that they used, and secured with zip ties (also known as cable ties). He was probably the only person carrying a bag that was not hassled and contained, which was a good thing for me as I could finally see a local fellow fashionably togged, affirming that trends don’t always circumnavigate our island.

Puma X Les Benjamins chest rig.jpgPuma X Les Benjamins chest rig

Chest rigs are, in fact, now so popular that even Prada—belatedly—has their own version. Called the ‘harness bag’, it is made using what the brand calls a “technical fabric” but looks and feels to me like the regular Prada nylon, it is given a downplay of its war-front provenance by a kooky print that is described as “inspired by the graphic art of horror films”. If price is of concern (and they usually are for single or double-season craze), Zara can always be relied for something on trend, but do consider what I think is really fetching: the Puma X Les Benjamins chest rig (above) that the partners called ‘sacoche’. Misnomer aside, Puma and the Istanbul-based streetwear brand’s collab resulted in one of the cutest chest-rigs I have seen in the research for this post. I find the lightness of the whole bag a plus, and the hi-vis lime green a nice shot of fresh air.

It is tempting to blame Matthew Williams for the trend of take a bag or pocket to the chest. The signs for such a place to position storage spaces were, however, evident with the return of the bum-bag a few seasons back. Rather than site the pouch where they usually rest—above the posterior, hence the somewhat inelegant name, designers styled them as an accessory for the front, across the body. These days, from the coffee shop beer ladies to the dragon-boaters after practice, assorted bags are strapped across the chest like a parent would with an infant in a baby carrier. The task-specific chest rigs’ appearance as a fashion accessory is, therefore, really a matter of time, but have we not always like taking things to heart, if not wearing stuff close to it?

Photos: Chin Boh Kay, AB Tan, Jagkrit Suwanmethanon