Matthew Williamson grabs the digital recorder out of my hand and turns the tables, journalistically speaking. “So tell us about your retweets,” he says, playfully mocking the serious interview taking place just moments before.
A lighthearted discussion about Williamson’s recent e-commerce launch in the US has quickly devolved into a passionate discourse on just how entrenched the designer should become on Twitter—like every other high-end label on the planet, Williamson is weighing his strategy for the social-media platform that has so thoroughly seeped into our daily lives and language. “We’re trying to work out whether it should be a corporate thing or a personal thing,” he says. A proponent of the latter, I promptly launch into an exhaustive tutorial of Twitter-meets-the-fashion-industry, and that’s when Williamson realizes the roles of interviewer/interviewee have indeed reversed.
Ultimately it’s his commitment to new ideas that may emerge as a key theme for Matthew Williamson in 2010. The US e-commerce site that debuted in mid-January was just the beginning, taking his online presence to a much-needed level. “My involvement in the Internet was really quite limited, to be honest,” he says, pointing to business partner and CEO Joseph Velosa and CFO Justine Rouch as the instigators for the project. “Together they’ve been quite a bit dynamic in understanding that we were missing out on a big opportunity.” Williamson’s eponymous website is now sleek, fun, colorful and accessible, not unlike the designer’s clothes.
Williamson’s line is likewise undergoing a shift in both look and attitude, first viewed in the Spring/Summer collection now hitting stores. “There’s a bit less of a bohemian aesthetic,” he notes. “It was really a desire of mine to shift the direction of the collection somewhat—I wanted to push it toward a sharper silhouette, with a little more structure, a little more tailoring.” Glistening polished linens were used for precisely cut cropped jackets paired with cuffed shorts or shapely skirts topped with paper-bag waists; a variety of sheath dresses were similarly meticulous in their line, but upon closer inspection reveal the artistry so inherent in Williamson’s work. “I was a little sad about the picture from the runway of this, because it just looks like a black dress,” he says, holding up a double-faced silk-crepe sheath, accented with architecturally seamed panels of satin, the result of which is a matte-and-shiny effect that is equal parts playful and clever.
The $1,695 dress, which he calls “modern, and yet timeless,” is both a success story and a revelation for Williamson. “Perhaps most bizarrely and most fascinating to me, our best-selling garment was this black cocktail dress,” he reports. “It’s beautifully considered and structured really well, but it’s a black cocktail dress, the thing you would think in your head is the least brandidentifiable piece. That makes me very hopeful about broadening our appeal. You get so boxed in as a designer for so many reasons; creatively it becomes important to expand your DNA, otherwise you become stifled. [Spring/Summer] was therefore about me showing a new side.”
Which isn’t to say Williamson is abandoning that which has made him so popular with the Miami audience, namely his proficient use of color and the sometimes dizzying prints he is fond of whipping into floaty dresses and caftans. Those liquid linens and black crepes on the runway, for example, were offset by fluttery lime chiffon and brilliant florals in deep blue or purple. “And the caftans and beachwear everyone associates with what we do, they’re in our showroom, so they’re still there,” he assures.
And perhaps not so far into the future, you also will find menswear: A capsule collection of men’s cashmere sweaters, T-shirts and scarves just launched exclusively at Harrods, a natural choice for the London-based Williamson. “If it goes well we’ll also approach Barneys or perhaps Colette in Paris,” he says. “I feel like men’s has been a long time coming. I dabbled with it in my H&M collaboration last year, but I’ve wanted to do men’s as long as I can remember, pieces I want to wear myself, just as Diane von Furstenberg and Stella McCartney embody what they do. So we’ll see if this has legs and can develop into a more rounded wardrobe.”
As Williamson segues into thoughts of future collections for men and women alike, his time and attention are equally focused on a book for Rizzoli, due out this fall. He’s been collaborating with Colin McDowell, the former Sunday Times Style columnist who previously has worked with an array of fashion luminaries, from John Galliano to Manolo Blahnik and Jean Paul Gaultier, on similar tomes. “I’ve been collecting all these materials for the book, and it’s quite eye-opening to see where you started and how far you’ve come,” says the 38-year-old Williamson, who launched his label in 1997. “All of a sudden you’re having conversations about, ‘What do we want to say on every page?’ and you realize you’re talking about your life. What I’m discovering is that we’re a bit of a rags-toriches story. But I’m enjoying this journey through the essence of what I’m about.”
As he runs his hand along the jewelry chain that’s been lushly embroidered onto a pale-gray sheath of glistening, polished linen, Williamson smiles. A lovely moment, I think; I must remember to tweet this.
TOP IMAGE: Williamson backstage at the Spring/Summer 2010 runway show in London.