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May 16, 2018

Matthew M Williams Brings Human Touch to a Data-Driven Training Collection

Training apparel is the most democratic of sport design. Stripped of any external ornament — like that which can come from team apparel — it speaks with function first.

“In the space of training, the aesthetic is 100 percent informed by a garment’s purpose,” says Kurt Parker, Nike’s VP of Apparel Design. Because of that, the category is ripe for evolution and experimentation. That’s where Matthew M Williams comes in. The American designer (now based in Italy) behind breakout label Alyx has made his name by deftly balancing a unique aesthetic with an unwavering eye for utility. Collaborating with Nike, Williams has produced a collection that gives a human touch to a data-driven, purpose-led series of training shirts, trousers and accessories for men and women.

As its base, the collection takes elements from last year’s AAE capsule, which offered a glimpse of the future by way of a T-shirt. In essence, it employs computational design to transform data (in this case, Atlas maps relaying heat and sweat zones as well as motion) into structural patterns that inform a new way of manufacturing a sport standard. “Whenever you get a hold of a way to visualize data, it lets you start thinking about how to solve the problem differently,” explains Parker.

For instance, keen consideration of advanced thermoregulation or biomechanics can challenge traditional garment patterning. “What computational design and computer data can offer is really the future of design,” affirms Williams. “It allows us to see things or take things further than we might otherwise. It helps to create a different perspective that we can build around. Working in tandem — with data and emotion — is super interesting.”

What computational design and computer data can offer is really the future of design. It helps to create a different perspective that we can build around. 

- Matthew M Williams

Both believe that while data offers new opportunity, it alone doesn’t design. The opportunity comes from what Williams describes as adding an “organic feel.” For his collection, that is most apparent in his application of “imperfections” against the sharpness of the computer design, such as with the women’s mid-layer tank, which has a raw edge finish. “You need human beings to still figure out how to interpret data in a great way. The storytelling of how the product links to its use and bring an emotion to it into — tug on the heartstrings a little bit. That's where I see my role.”

That emotion is apparent in Williams’ choice of raw-edge details and in the tonality of the light bone Nike x MMW Men’s Long Sleeve Top. 

Williams’ selected accessories also help ground the collection in broad use. Parker notes that the joy of working with Williams is that he brings some real world applications to the bleeding edge of Nike design. “You need functionality in multiple areas in a training collection because we know it won’t only be used in the gym. For example, you need pockets, and you need elements that are detachable and adaptable. Matthew included a towel as part of the collection, which is something that he knew was needed,” says Parker.

If the towel is the most purely functional of the accessories, Williams’ articulation of the Nike sock is the most playful — and most indicative of his capacity to give fresh shape to classic items. “That double sock, which I really love because of the scale and the familiarity of that specific item, putting the tweak on it, I think, allows for a new but familiar emotion.”

 The Nike x MMW collection releases July 12.