Louisahhh and Matthew Williams on Daily Rhythms and Life in Paris
To mark the release of the deluxe edition of her album The Practice of Freedom, the DJ and singer Louisahhh tapped 1017 ALYX 9SM for a special t-shirt in celebration of love, chaos, and the Okra Project, an organization dedicated to protecting Black Trans people in face of crisis. The collaboration is a reunion of sorts, for Louisahhh and her fellow New Yorker Matthew Williams, the co-founder of 1017 ALYX 9SM and the creative director at Givenchy. The album is a blend of crunching electronic production and deep lyrics, finding function in places others may fail to see, kind of like Williams’s approach to fashion. This is not the first time the pair have teamed up, blending their styles and crafts. Louisahhh often curates playlists for Williams and DJs at his brand’s parties. During a busy week, the two kindred spirits linked up to discuss vegetarianism, finding that good daily rhythm, and life as Americans in Paris.
LOUISAHHH: Let’s fucking go! Thank you so much for doing this with us, with me. How are you today? I mean, aside from the obvious.
MATTHEW WILLIAMS: I’m in our home of New York City. Do you miss New York?
LOUISAHHH: Yes and no, because it feels like it’s such a different city than the one I grew up in. It’s evolved so much, and so it’s weird, I’m nostalgic for a place that doesn’t exist anymore. What are you up to there? And what do you love about it? Because I know that it’s really important to your creative identity.
WILLIAMS: It’s where I started ALYX, on St. Mark’s. It’s where many of my friends live, and I just consider it home. I lived here for most of my adult life, so it’s the place that feels the most like home to me. Also, my girlfriend lives here and we have an apartment. We spent Thanksgiving with her family this year and that was super nice.
LOUISAHHH: Oh, that’s beautiful! Especially after a year that was so challenging for travel and for relationships, to be able to really feel like you’re grounded with family stuff.
LOUISAHHH: We’ve both shared the experiences of being Americans in Paris, and I know that you’ve been kind of back and forth between Italy and America for a long time. How has getting settled here felt for you?
WILLIAMS: I’m still working on it because it was definitely in the middle of chaos and it wasn’t normal Paris because of COVID. Things were open and then closed and the environment was so much work. I feel like I just started to discover Paris in September or so. But yes, a slow start to getting used to living there.
LOUISAHHH: They talk about France as a coconut culture in that America can be like a peach, right? Soft on the outside and then there’s a center pit that’s hard to penetrate. Then France is the opposite; it’s very hard on the outside and then once you penetrate the shell it can be soft, gooey, and lovely. I think especially coming during COVID, it’s a full coconut, there’s a nuance about going outside. What a nightmare to be like, “And now I live here!”
WILLIAMS: I’ve spent so much time there [Paris] over the past 15 years, that I feel like I know it pretty well. I have a lot of friends there as well. I think more about making time to see friends and maybe just experiencing the city more. On the weekends I’ll go to the museum or the parks with my kids and things like that, and that’s super nice. I’ve been taking French classes but it goes in and out of being able to consistently do them and use what I’m learning in the classes. But it’s definitely on the bucket list to learn more next year.
LOUISAHHH: As a terrible, terrible expat American in Paris, my French progress is only at the snail’s pace, especially when everybody you work with speaks to you in English because they’re like, “Okay, this will be much faster.”
WILLIAMS: That’s how it is for me, too. But I feel like you found your routine in Paris, which is amazing. You have your horses that are outside the city. We’ve come and visited you a couple of times, which has been magical with the girls to see the horses, and you have stuff outside of music that has a nice balance for you.
LOUISAHHH: I think you might relate to this, in finding structures outside of work to making work feel better so it’s not just this all-encompassing thing. That has been really important. For me, it’s the horses and working out and yoga. Because I really like structure, and I was wondering, what’s your daily rhythm? You’re traveling so much and you’re working so hard that I imagine that it’s really important to cultivate a personal anchor.
WILLIAMS: Meditation in the morning and the evening and also exercise, going back and forth between yoga and just regular interval training. Obviously, health-wise, sobriety, being vegetarian, all those kinds of things allow my body and mind to deal with the pace of work and the pressure. It’s definitely a learning curve because each year things grow more and there’s more responsibility. You slowly get used to everything. I feel like I’m getting into a good rhythm now. There was a lot, and now I feel like it’s starting to level out, but all I can keep feeling is just grateful, to be able to have these experiences and create at this level, be able to make things that I’m really psyched on, and that other people enjoy.
LOUISAHHH: I’m working out and doing yoga and meditating and I’m sober and a vegetarian. I’m like, “Are we the same person?!” I also know that you come from a background that deals with subcultures, and with exploring uncharted territories and darker spaces. How do you translate that to a much more mass-market brand?
WILLIAMS: I think it’s maybe a misconception that I have a dark inspiration in the projects that I do.
LOUISAHHH: I’m projecting, for sure.
WILLIAMS: There are elements of that sometimes, and it can definitely be hard. Also, a lot of the time the music that I’m into, that I present my collections with, is hard and has intense energy to it.
LOUISAHHH: Emotional and aggressive.
WILLIAMS: Both. A lot of times it’s emotional, but in a way that’s specific to me. I think that can give a framework or a platform that gives another layer to the clothes. I come from a lineage of a tribe, there are people above me that I looked up to that helped me along the way. The clothes I make exist outside of the runway, outside of the photographs and the stores, and they take on another context. Sometimes, that’s the subculture. Those clothes exist outside of how I’m presenting them and they have a second life there, that can last years. There are products that I’ve made with ALYX that are like five or six years old and we’re still making them, they’re just a staple.
LOUISAHHH: The work isn’t drawn from the subculture, the subculture is created from the work, which is really interesting. I really love that.
WILLIAMS: With ALYX, it’s much easier for it to be smaller and directional, because everything has been built from my personal story and what’s been important to me. But then with Givenchy, there’s 70 years of history and so many different people that the brand speaks to. So there’s a time for storytelling for each thing and there are so many collections. If you look at that last collection we did, there’s so much color, there’s so much lightness, there’s positivity. As much as I can ingrain positivity and lightness in what I do, that’s what I’m interested in doing right now.
LOUISAHHH: The world definitely needs it, and it’s amazing to have a platform where you can make intentional work that serves in a lot of ways. I loved what you were talking about with the tribe being built around the work as its own kind of organic functional thing, because I think a lot about music is like that, like when people ask me what goes into writing a song. In my experience, especially within your shows, it seems like you have a really strong universe that you’ve cultivated both personally, and then Givenchy and ALYX kind of branch off from it.
WILLIAMS: A lot of people don’t think about clothing in that way, but that was the thing that made me want to be a designer. It came from culture. I would go out to nightclubs, and music was a part of it, and how people dressed in real life. It was a combination of everything, the photography and the imagery, all coming together, and you present it in a show and it makes people feel something. That’s what a movie is, right? You’re using people and music, sound, lighting, photography, acting and storytelling. That’s what I like about fashion. All those elements exist within the creation and it allows it to continue to be a reflection of my life and what I’m living, and what I’m feeling today.
LOUISAHHH: You keep saying the word storytelling, which is really important.
WILLIAMS: That becomes what you start getting better at the more you do, is the storytelling. Maybe that’s something I could even be better at, actually, and I want to improve on it, too, because sometimes you don’t want to over-explain things. Sometimes things get missed if you don’t explain them really clearly and consistently. Sometimes the same idea needs to be repeated multiple times to understand.
LOUISAHHH: Theme and variation, as they say in classical music structures.
WILLIAMS: When I talk about the world giving another layer and context to the work, that’s a great barometer as well. What people are affected by, what they latch on to.
LOUISAHHH: I know that a lot of times in writing music, I’ll come up with the idea and then I won’t know what it means until months or years after the thing I thought it meant actually evolves, the longer the song is in the world. It gets fed back to me like a prayer, and it can be a little bit scary.
WILLIAMS: Your live performances look incredible. How does it feel to be out there again with new music that you’ve been wanting to let the world hear for so long?
LOUISAHHH: Coming from a background of DJing and now doing this real rock show, it’s been something that I’ve wanted forever. We’ve been talking about it for five years. It’s finally here. To be totally candid, the live show is so much fun and so fulfilling. I don’t know about you, but I’m so anxious and in my head most of the time that it can be really difficult to ever have fun. Even though literally all I do every day is fun shit. Like you were saying, I ride horses and I DJ. Come on.
WILLIAMS: I wanted to ask if you had anything to say about the charity that we donated the proceeds of the t-shirt that we did together. It’s such a great charity that you put me on to.
LOUISAHHH: I know that ALYX has actually done several projects. You guys had some history in the altruism space, which I think is really cool. I think that you guys have worked with The Okra Project before, which put it on my radar. I know that you grew up in California, but that New York is your spiritual home. So to give to a New York-based charity that felt very human and connected to who it was serving, which is Black and people of color, trans and non-binary people who are in need of food. Delivering home-cooked, luxurious, really loving meals prepared, and especially during the pandemic, this is a community that was gravely affected. It wasn’t a big, massive charity that was helping everybody everywhere, but it felt really specific and really grounded in the community. That felt really important for this time.
WILLIAMS: I agree. The Okra Project is such a great charity and I’m really happy that we chose to work with them on this project.
LOUISAHHH: Really beautiful. I know you’re a busy man, you probably have to run, but it’s been so lovely catching up with you, Matt. I love you very, very much.
WILLIAMS: I love you too, Louisa.