SINGAPORE (June 26): In fashion this week, Matthew Williams takes over Givenchy and cashmere production hit by border spats. 

The American streetwear designer Matthew M. Williams was named on June 22 as the new head of aristocratic French fashion house Givenchy. The 34-year-old creator is the second US streetwear star to be given the reins of a major French luxury label, following his friend Virgil Abloh, who designs Louis Vuitton menswear.

Like Abloh, Chicago-born Williams first worked with the rapper Kanye West before going out on his own with his 1017 ALYX 9SM brand. Based in Italy, where Williams now lives, the brand has become so hot it got a name check alongside Nike in Canadian singer Drake’s new song “Toosie Side”.

“It’s been my life-long dream to be in this position, and it is really surreal that it is finally here,” Williams said in a post on Instagram. “I have worked every day for 15 years towards this single goal. “At the same time, it’s bitter-sweet because we are living in unprecedented times and I just hope in some way I can bring hope and with my community create positive change for the industry and for the world,” he added. Williams has previously said that he owes everything to Kanye West, who is married to Kim Kardashian.

Kanye West is his mentor

“He is the person that gave me my first break. I created a suit jacket for him to wear to the Grammys when I was 21. He then asked me how much I got paid, to which I replied, ‘Nothing.’ And he said, ‘Okay, 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. He’s been an amazing friend and mentor,” Williams recalls.

The designer later founded the cult music and fashion collective Been Trill with West, Abloh and fellow US streetwear sensation Preston Heron. Their most notorious creation was a set of laces bearing the legend “Fuck Off” that cost $100. Sidney Toledano, of LVMH, the French fashion giant of which Givenchy is a part, says he has “watched Williams grow into a great talent”. “I believe his singular vision of modernity will be a great opportunity for Givenchy to write its new chapter,” he says.

The name of Williams’ own brand comes from his daughter Alyx (pronounced “a-leeks”) and his own date of birth, Oct 17.

Something that deserves to exist

As well as his street cred, Williams has eco-credentials from his belief that clothes should be made to last a lifetime. “There are too many clothes on this Earth. If I am going to take the responsibility of making clothing, I need to make something that deserves to exist,” he told GQ magazine. The American replaces the British designer Clare Waight Keller, who stepped down in April after three years at the fabled but (until her arrival) rather faded house.

Keller’s biggest coup was making the wedding dress for Meghan Markle when she married Britain’s Prince Harry in 2018. Keller, 49, also created a menswear range for the label that was once the favourite of Audrey Hepburn as well as bringing it back into the Paris haute couture ranks. Williams, however, will only design Givenchy’s men’s and women’s collections, which is sure to spark speculation that the brand is withdrawing from the elite Paris shows. His first Givenchy show will be in Paris in October. 

India-China border spat hits global cashmere production

The world is heading for a shortage of the highly prized and super-soft cashmere wool as pashmina goats that live on the “roof of the world” become caught up in the fractious border dispute between nuclear neighbours India and China.

Wool from pashmina goats, reared by nomads in the inhospitable high-altitude cold desert region of Ladakh, is the most expensive and coveted cashmere in the world. But the shaggy creatures that provide the yarn are being pushed out of their grazing lands in the tussle between the world’s two most-populous nations, causing the death of tens of thousands of kids this season, locals and officials said.

“In about three years when the newborn goats would have started yielding pashmina we’ll see a significant drop in production,” Sonam Tsering of the All Changtang Pashmina Growers Cooperative Marketing Society told AFP.

There have been numerous face-offs and brawls between Chinese and Indian soldiers over their 3,500km (2,200-mile) frontier, which has never been properly demarcated. The latest is concentrated in the Ladakh region, just opposite Tibet, with Indian officials claiming Chinese troops encroached over the boundary in recent weeks. The alleged movements came after military fisticuffs at the eastern part of the border near Sikkim in May.

Newborns dead

Some traditional grazing land is lost to China each year, Tsering said. But this year, even the main winter grazing areas near KakJung, Tum Tselay, Chumar, Damchok and Korzok are out of bounds amid the heightened tensions, he added. “It’s devastating. The PLA [China’s People’s Liberation Army] used to encroach into our side by the metres, but this time they have come inside several kilometres,” said Jurmet, a former elected official who has only one name.

“It was breeding season for the goats. Around 85% of their newborns died this year because large herds were pushed out into the cold from the grazing lands [in February],” he told AFP over the phone from Leh, the region’s capital city. Tsering said Indian soldiers were blocking the animals from entering areas deemed as sensitive, while herders told him the Chinese army was pushing Tibetan nomads into their grazing areas.

Half a dozen residents involved with goat herding whom AFP spoke to said that until a few years ago, they would cross over the frozen Indus river for grazing during the winter, but those areas were now being encroached by China. Meanwhile, communicating with the herders — whose satellite phones provided by Indian officials have been withdrawn in recent years — has become difficult, said Jurmet.

Vital industry

The huge number of deaths — in the tens of thousands according to a local Indian official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity — could devastate the sector in the coming years. The goats yield some 50 tonnes of the finest and most expensive feather-light cashmere wool each year, supporting the vital handicrafts industry in Kashmir that employs thousands of people. Most of the wool is woven into yarn and exquisite shawls sold the world over from luxury store Harrods in London to the Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates, and can cost up to US$800 ($1,110) for one scarf.

More than 1,000 families of nomadic Changpa herders roam the vast Changtang plateau at over 5,000 metres, grazing some 300,000 Pashmina goats, black yaks and horses through the summer months. They move to the slightly lower altitude grazing lands straddling Tibet and along the mighty Indus river during harsh winter months of December to February when temperatures drop up to –50°C.

The military tensions are the latest blow for the herders, who are already reeling from the impact of climate change which has made winters harsher and summers drier. Some have even abandoned their generations-long way of life to migrate to towns in Ladakh in search of other sources of income.