Serious times call for serious measures, or at least, some serious buckles. If every brand has a signature element that makes them instantly recognizable to those in the know, ALYX’s would be the buckle. But not just any buckle: Confidently crafted of no-nonsense metal or durable plastic, depending on the style, and dubbed the Rollercoaster, their safety buckle serves as the focal point for the brand’s belts, bags, bracelets and beyond. Their products have even been seen on Gigi Hadid, A$AP Rocky and Kendall Jenner, to name a few. Such a rugged fastener used to be relegated to camping backpacks and outdoorsy vests in sporting goods stores—which is the idea.
ALYX is all about utilitarianism, almost to a military-grade level, with a distinctly high-end, true luxury slant. Or as they describe it, the brand is “built on the concept of high-quality materials mixed with subversive culture.” They’re also self-described as owning “a foundation built on the undercurrent.”
So what exactly is the undercurrent, at least in the context of ALYX? While the brand might not be designing for a potential Armageddon per se, when you’re wearing it, you feel ready for some sort of low-key combat. Severe but not austere, assertive and a little aggressive, their stuff is designed for the new-millennium street-style soldier who wants to feel empowered on a daily basis.
Hardware detailing doesn’t stop at the buckle: Thick stainless-steel curb chains, lighter-clip details and overt zippers accent the collections. As a matter of fact, ALYX’s founder, Matthew M. Williams, is appreciated as the fashion world’s go-to guy when it comes to no-nonsense hardware, so much so that Kim Jones commissioned him to design a custom CD-logo clasp for the designer’s Dior Men debut in June 2018, showing up on belts that brought a sporty-tough approachability to the collection.
Chicago-born, California-raised Williams (not to be confused with British fashion designer Matthew Williamson, of vividly printed, feminine and flowy early-aughties fame) launched ALYX in 2015. But he didn’t come out of nowhere. The visionary’s hype ties run deep. He had previously served as a creative director for Kanye West and Lady Gaga and worked with Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston, converting self-described art collective and DJ crew #BEEN #TRILL into a high-meets-low menswear brand back in 2012. For his own label’s first two years, Williams built a high-profile fan base with a concentration on womenswear, but the spirit of the brand is inherently genderless.
Originally called ALYX Studios and officially changed to 1017 ALYX 9SM—which references Williams’ October 17th birthday and their founding studio’s St. Mark’s Place address—in time for the Spring 2019 collection, it welcomes an androgynous perspective, technical tenacity and at times, a subtly kinky edge. The idea is clothing is clothing, and clothing is for everyone (well, everyone who can afford it, that is, because ALYX doesn’t run cheap). According to Williams, their ethos is based on the fact that you have to create things as desirable as they are usable.
“I firmly believe the world doesn’t need any more clothes,” Williams told GQ in 2018. “You have to give people a reason to buy a new piece. That’s what’s exciting.”
One of those reasons is the age-old union of fashion and function. If there’s any doubt as to the brand’s appreciation for genuine, unisex-driven function, just look to one of its first multi-release collaborations. They teamed up with Italian hiking boot-maker Roa to give their own boots and sneakers a legit lug sole with maximum durability. Naturally, since they’re in super-distressed and patent croc-embossed renditions, they don’t look like they’re for your typical mountaineering enthusiast.
Originally, the brand was based in New York City and produced in Italy. Translation: You get the best of both worlds. While Los Angeles has been competitive the past few years, New York remains the United States’ fashion capital for rising brands; after all, Opening Ceremony, Heron Preston, R13, KITH and Supreme are all primarily based there. Then again, you can’t beat expertly executed Italian craftsmanship and streamlined tailoring.
Williams currently lives in Ferrara, Italy, which perhaps signifies his focus on true luxury, even if it’s delivered in street-friendly packaging. What keeps him there goes beyond quality control: “It’s about the beginning of the process, so the suppliers understand the feeling we’re going for. We make a lot of fabrics from scratch and sometimes you have to start that a year and a half out,” he explained to GQ. The same year, Williams told Hypebeast Radio, “In this world today, where everything is spit out of a computer and made by a machine, what I want in clothing is to have it feel some kind of emotion or soul. And that only comes by the touch of a human hand.”
His intentions are clearly paying off. While the brand’s palette proves to favor discreet neutrals (think lots of black and earth tones, save for the sporadic pop of color), statement-setting pieces like finely crafted leather trousers, spotted on Travis Scott, Dev Hynes and Playboy Carti (below with Williams and A$AP Ferg), prove ALYX is not for the aesthetically timid. Other popular items such as mock-neck T-shirts with words like “Techno” and “Zero” emblazoned across them have been rocked by Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin, respectively. In October 2019, Bella Hadid celebrated her 23rd birthday in downtown Manhattan in a monochrome-black look from ALYX’s Spring 2020 collection that featured their nylon military-inspired interpretation of modern suiting, which the supermodel paired with sheer Wolford knee-highs and chunky Doc Martens. Hadid’s structured, cinched-waist jacket hinted at a dressier, more grown-up vibe for the coming year.
But their most celebrated piece? Surprisingly, it’s not the lauded Rollercoaster belt. It’s their chest rig, also known as the harness chest bag, also known as the house’s signature accessory, which features multiple straps designed to be worn just how you want it. Williams has whipped up the much-imitated piece in tactile nylon and sleek leather incarnations, pricing it around $600, depending on the fabrication. The front-and-center-worn style skyrocketed to much documented streetwear notoriety in 2018—usurping 2017’s favored crossbody style by offering a fresh, perhaps even revolutionary take on the modern man bag. Indeed, Hypebeast called it “the fashion industry’s favorite wearable accessory,” one that’s been approved by Kanye West and A$AP Rocky (yes, again).
With bonded leather jackets and trooper vests that look bulletproof, alongside streamlined silhouettes and metals intended to feel anything but precious with inspirations arguably pulled from The Matrix and traditional goth go-tos, it’s no surprise Vogue hailed Williams as the “biggest proponent” of the warcore look. Call it a future-minded, utilitarian viewpoint with a keen emphasis on the deconstructed, reconstructed and impeccably constructed.
The brand now has collaborations with Nike (featuring balaclavas, buckled Air Force 1 high-tops, and strapped-up Flyknits), Vans (classic sneaker styles wildly dipped and baked in liquid rubber), Fragment (a foldable T-shirt that retracts to read “Fuck You” and a bomber jacket accented with suit fabric), Moncler (mega-puffers designed for elements and paparazzi alike), Stüssy (more updates on simple T-shirt-and-hiking boot staples) and Union Los Angeles (warped camouflage motifs and a digital-printed fleece variation of the Chest Rig) under their hefty clip-fastened belt.
Expect much more to come, but don’t anticipate ALYX becoming a regular household name any time soon. ALYX wants to stay precisely on the verge of a breakthrough into the mainstream but perhaps right on the cusp of instant recognizability and potential ubiquity. After all, desirability and singularity tend to go hand-in-hand. Plus, not everyone can be a warrior.