The RCA graduate finds her inspiration from British lads, boyish troublemakers and Jamie T for her designs
Pay close attention to Courtney McWilliams. Last year saw her complete her Masters at the Royal College of Art and present a graduate collection so perfect in its execution that one can only imagine how chagrined it left her peers, and how happy the male population of Stockport is to have at last had tracksuit-chic affirmed. It was this very ode to the oft-underappreciated chav that saw McWilliams offered a permanent design position with Givenchy, and these lads – for all their jewellery and boyish derision – certainly owe some gratitude to McWilliams’ preternatural ability to incorporate a sense of luxury into the most unsuspecting of narratives. Such an unerring active intellect (and a well-placed love for men) is undoubtedly the portent of great things to come, so Dazed spoke with the twenty-five year old about her providence, her muse Jamie T, and made an attempt to deconstruct her vision of the male psyche.
Dazed Digital: So where did you grow up? Was there a council estate and a handsome troublemaker called Troy involved at any point?
Courtney McWilliams: I grew up between England and Kuala Lumpur. I was a boarding school brat so I saw nothing of council estates or boys until I escaped from there. But once I did, I discovered plenty of handsome troublemakers; none named Troy thankfully, but I was really into my BMX for a while – a Raleigh Styler named Tinchy.
DD: You're a stickler for narratives from what I know of you - what's the deal with The Boy from your graduate collection?
Courtney McWilliams: The muse for my collection was Jamie T, who I think is one of the best songwriters of our generation. The producer Lewis Ryder did a great techno remix of Jamie T's Northern Line for my show music. His song lyrics were literally the entire inspiration for the collection. But I guess The Boy was a bit more of a witty take on your average chavvy British boy. He's someone your mum might not be thrilled about, dresses in designer clothes and somehow makes them look cheap, and looks really hot in tracksuit bottoms whilst walking his staff. I took a lot of references from my friends, who are majority male, and made sure they had a voice in the collection as well. It was really important to me that my friends could see themselves in my clothes.
DD: Has fashion design always patently been your calling?
Courtney McWilliams: I know I always fantasized about being involved in fashion, but it wasn't ever something that was referred to as a credible job while I was at school. So I studied towards what some might incorrectly consider a more academic career. It was a very frustrating time for me because I have always been a very creative spirit. But I think I realised that design was my calling on the last day at school, and I knew it was my last chance to turn my life around. So I did.
DD: Conceptually are you applying your aesthetic to same man - the same ideal - or do all men have their merits, and hopefully their own collection at some point?
Courtney McWilliams: I was very conscious while designing the collection that I made pieces that could be worn by a range of men, which included young boys on the street as well as more fashion-forward men. I did ignore a few other stereotypes, but of course all men have their merits and the more I research and design, the more I think about other age ranges and tastes – because ideally you want everyone to want your clothes.
DD: Which symbols of male iconography won't get out of your head? Consider this my weak Freudian attempt to understand how you see men for now at least.
Courtney McWilliams: I have lots of visuals of boys in my head that are so cool... football shirts, old caps, skanky teeth (think Pro Green before his veneers), a gold sovereign. I have a great photograph by Cameron Alexander that often pops into my head. I'll email it to you.
DD: What kind of joke would the Courtney McWilliams man tell?
Courtney McWilliams: Probably one that I wouldn't find funny... he would also call me “darlin'”.
DD: What music do you listen to in your studio?
Courtney McWilliams: During my last collection it was Jamie T, Professor Green, lots of dubstep and High Contrast. Then I moved to Paris and we've started listening to some real pop crap in the studio, as well as XFactor when it was on, but it keeps the energy up. But do you know whom I love at the moment and would die to work with? Devlin. He's up top in my fantasy front row list, alongside Coco Sumner and Jamie T.
DD: What's on the cards for you now? I understand you've been enlisted by Riccardo Tisci to design for Givenchy.
Courtney McWilliams: Yep, I am now officially a menswear designer for Givenchy and will be here indefinitely. Riccardo Tisci is an absolute legend. Fashion week is coming up so we're preparing for that. Obviously my lips are tightly sealed but this season is going to be something really special. I'm so excited to see the final result. The Givenchy Man is really cool to design for.
DD: It sounds like you're all for taking charge of your own learning.
Courtney McWilliams: My long-term plan is very ambitious, but in the medium-term I have a lot I want to discover at Givenchy. I am working with some very talented and experienced designers, so it really is priceless experience.
Photos by Michael Mayren