#BeenTrill#'s Matthew Williams gets real

The creative polymath lifts the lid on Kanye West, the power of social media and his buzzed-about capsule collection with Harvey Nichols

Fashion Q+A
HN X BEENTRILL X GARETH PUGH
Harvey Nichols x #BeenTrill# x Gareth Pugh Photography by Brett Lloyd

Matthew Williams is a man of many talents. Born in Chicago and raised in California, the art director, photographer, stylist and designer has collaborated with some of the most influential faces in fashion, art and music. Celebrated for his work as the Creative Director for Lady Gaga and Art Director of Kanye West’s haute-meets-lo-fi label Donda, Williams has additionally lent his talents to super-brands such as Nike, Hood by Air, Stussy and Supreme, and joined forces with Nick Knight’s pioneering SHOWstudio.

If that wasn’t enough, he also makes up one part of #BEENTRILL# – a cult DJ and art collective made up of creative directors such as Heron Preston and Virgil Abloh. For spring 2015, the all-star group has teamed up with Harvey Nicks on a limited-edition capsule collection and – in true #BEENTRILL# style – invited some of their favourite designers to work on the line too. Think, Mr Hare, Gareth Pugh, Kim Jones, Hardy Amies, Shaun Samson, Linda Farrow and A. Sauvage. Nice. To get the full lowdown, we spoke to Matthew to find out more: 

Let’s start from the beginning. How did #BEENTRILL# come about?

Matthew Williams: #BEENTRILL# is really just my friends and DJ group. It all started a couple of years ago when we got bored of not hearing the music that we wanted to hear while we were in London, so we decided to take over a club night and play what we wanted, and it just took off from there. It really was never meant to be a big project. To me, it has always been about having fun with your friends, collaborating and giving others a platform to contribute too.

And how would you define #BEENTRILL# now?

Matthew Williams: It’s a regurgitation of what we see in pop culture, on the Internet and also in our daily lives. It’s putting out ideas that are just fun. Luckily, because of our social media presence we can amplify a small, spontaneous idea so it seems much bigger than it actually is.

Are you surprised at how popular #BEENTRILL# has become in such a short space of time?

Matthew Williams: Yeah. It does surprise me. I’ve seen things get popular really quickly before but I think because we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we have allowed other people to join and play in our world. There’s this one Tumblr called #BEENTRILL# logos and somebody has spent the time to make every single logo from Taco Bell to KFC in our signature drippy font. But it’s really well done! It’s weird because it’s just the Rocky Horror Show font, but it’s taken on this whole other life. At that that moment two and a half years ago the font just felt right because it reminded us of how much we loved graffiti as kids. It was nostalgic.

Tell us about the collaboration with Harvey Nichols…

Matthew Williams: Well, my friend Reese Crisp, who is a menswear buyer for the store, has been a big supporter from day one. He and his colleague Darren Skey came up with the concept and met with me in New York. I was super excited because I knew it could be a great project, plus it was a great opportunity to give us more exposure over here in the UK. I then helped to curate the people to work on the project, for example my friend Marie Schuller, who is head of fashion film at SHOWstudio made a beautiful film with us for the presentation. And my friends Tom Guinness (who is a great stylist) and Brett Lloyd, an amazing up-and-coming photographer, helped mould the concept and visual language. Actually, they also made all of the jewellery for the look book images too, which was created from the trash left over from the River Thames when the tide goes out. Pretty wild.

DD: There is a really diverse mix of designers involved in the project, was that a conscious decision?

Matthew Williams: No it actually wasn’t conscious at all. I was already a huge fan of all of the designers, but it was Reese and Darren that helped to curate and offered to collaborate. I mean I never thought at brand like #BEENTRILL# would be able to collaborate with say a more traditional label like Hardy Amies, so that was really exiting. The fact that Kim Jones allowed us to re-release some of his archive pieces was a real highlight too. I have a personal relationship with Kim, he made my wife’s wedding dress last year and gave me a Chapman Brothers tuxedo for the big day – so that was special. 

What are your collection highlights?

Matthew Williams: Off the top of my head, there’s a mesh T-shirt by Kim Jones which is probably my favourite. There’s also a cool Gareth Pugh caplet with a #BEENTRILL# logo on it and an incredible Hardy Amies sheepskin coat. From Adrian Sauvage there’s a long leather trench, which is beautiful. Also, you should watch out for the Linda Farrow rubber sunglasses and Mr Hare’s slip-on shoes.

And what about the #BEENTRILL# offering?

Matthew Williams: We’ve done some custom long and short-sleeved tees (available to buy now), that are really vibrant and textural and have lots of interesting printing processes using high-density inks. We have also created a special T-shirt, which you can customise and design in-store at Harvey Nichols. It’s inspired by the limitations of personal consumerism and being aware of what you don’t need, so this is a way to buy the exact tee that you want from the colour of the shirt to the logos etc. The great thing is, even if you can’t afford to buy it, you can push it out over all your social networks. I want people to really engage with it.

You have worked with some incredible talents, but who has had the biggest impact on your career so far?

Matthew Williams: I mean working under Nick Knight has still to this day has been incredible. He’s my biggest advisor, advocate and friend – everything. There’s something to be said for his process and his continued curiosity and commitment to finding a new path and also sharing ideas and giving others a platform to push the medium forwards.

How did you find working with Kanye West?

Matthew Williams: Kanye is number one. He is the person that gave me my first break. I created a suit jacket for him to wear to the Grammies when I was 21 and he asked me what I did, and I told him I was working at this clothing brand. He then asked me how much I got paid, to which I replied "nothing" and he said, "OK I’m going to give you double nothing to come work with me." The next day I was on a plane with him to Japan. I owe him everything. He’s been an amazing friend and mentor. I recently stopped working with him four weeks ago so I could spend more time with my family, but we’re still amazing friends and talk all the time.

Your career highlights?

Matthew Williams: I would say the time that I spent with [designer] Hedi Slimane when he was in Los Angeles. I met him when I was assisting Nicola Formichetti on the day that my son was born, and after working on several projects together for Gaga we became friends. He had just moved to LA at the time and I learned so much from him. He is a very gentle, kind and creative person and really it was his work at Dior Homme that made me want to get into fashion. It was pretty surreal when we would drive his vintage Rolls Royce around LA.

Which new artists and musicians are on your radar right now?

Matthew Williams: I love Leo Gabin, a Belgian art collective who just had a show at the White Cube gallery; they do a lot of awesome paintings that re-appropriate YouTube videos. As far as music goes, I really like this English DJ troupe called the Goon Club Allstars and this band called Wet from New York. If you like the XX you’ll like them. Also, make sure you listen to Gravity Boys – they’re rappers from Sweden with great beats and style.

The main HN x BeenTrill collection will go on sale this December.

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