William McIntosh: The Rock Star’s Right-Hand Man
Most people up to speed with the local fashion scene would have already heard of Trini designer
William McIntosh via his work with internationally-acclaimed Caribbean artiste, Olatunji Yearwood, whom he had the pleasure of dressing for an entire whirlwind, "rock star" season.
For me, though, the two words that brought me to his page for the very first time were 'neoprene' and 'turtleneck'. Prior to that, he was a breath of fresh air that had yet to hit my face.
I hadn't heard of any Caribbean designer bold enough to bother working with such an "un-Caribbean" fabric and style choice; and loved the way the models (his artist and artist-type friends) wore the knit neck all the way up to cover the entire bottom half of their faces. The styling choice introduced further mystery and intrigue to both the wearer (and the maker).
Upon finally chatting, I found out that the piece - and others like it in McIntosh's sought-after BoxTee Collection released earlier this year - were literally inspired by a time he felt “boxed-in”...in life.
The tee’s stiff, oblong shape (thanks to neoprene, a synthetic rubber usually used for wetsuits) stood out to me as a rebellion against the typical Caribbean silhouettes of flowing, light and airy, or sexy and figure-clinging. It also represented, to me, audacity because it was totally at odds with what you'd want to wear in the scorching weather here. It's nice to see a Caribbean designer acknowledging that we do travel to colder climes from time to time, even if the turtleneck is constantly in demand with clients right here on the island.
And it's not the only one - other pieces in the range bring it back home with bright colour-blocking styles of still-boxy yet more-relaxed crew neck tees and button-downs, too. A few even have a Pantone colour theory-inspired chip printed on its front with written shout-outs to Sativa, Acid and LSD, and suddenly I am transported out of the box altogether and into rapper A$AP Rocky's head as he struts the streets of New York.
Which also makes sense. McIntosh used to live in New York and is, therefore, directly inspired by it; but his Trinidadian roots are still present and well planted. It's seen and felt in everything from the hygiene face masks he now makes emblazoned with his signature stamp of a palm tree...to direct tributes such as "Carnival Moon", the name for his latest Ready-to-Wear line of vibrant shirts he says was inspired by Carnival as well as “an emotional feeling of being weightless”.
For someone who idolizes the classic fittings and playful aesthetic of American designer Thom Browne, is also influenced by Carnival, street and drug culture, and yet once presented a collection inspired by The Wild West at Red Runway (a fashion event series in Trinidad),it’s safe to say that McIntosh is working his way through a buffet of ideas with a voraciously-adventurous appetite in tow.
Here's How It Began...
Straight out of St Augustine Senior Comprehensive in 2009, he jumped right into fashion from the retail end, and also being a citizen of The United States made it easy for him to travel back and forth to maintain his store’s stock.
“I was very inspired by all the cultures, the different things and people you would see out there…even different conversations you would have…so I was constantly exposed to fashion and personality and style through my travels.
“Finally, I met a group of people doing some stuff locally, and I found it really cool to be a part of a group. I saw it as an opportunity to really learn some things on a more in-depth level – because having a store is one thing, but really learning the craft and fashion theory, garment construction and all these things attached to the life of being a designer or stylist, also appealed to me.”
He was lucky to find his first mentor in Resort Wear designer Shaun Griffith Perez (SGP). McIntosh spent entire evenings after work just watching him sew and create.
“He introduced to me what Classic Style was, and the articles and images in Esquire and GQ magazine that were reflecting that,” says McIntosh. “I’d be there for hours. It was a whole ‘learning lime’.
“Like, I’m learning how to fold hems – actually taking the pin and offering some free services here and there; learning about cuts and seam allowance, how to put buttons on … real basic stuff. But the passion really drove me. I would get to his studio around 5pm and leave around 12, 1am. Rinse and repeat.”
Finally, he felt ready to try his own hand at design after one memorable rainy day drive…
“I had this classic blue bus, like the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, and caught the sunset one evening. It had been raining the entire day and then there was just this amazing sunset.
“You know Magic Hour in New York? Well, Trinidad has this Magic Hour after rain falls when the sun will show through the clouds and you get these nice hues and tints of orange, pink, blue, even green, some mustard in between… That day it inspired this emotion within, and I decided to do a line of linen shorts called The Boulevard Collection.”
The rookie Resort Wear line – designed and conceptualized by McIntosh and brought to life by SGP – caught fire to the extent that it became a full runway presentation, complete with bicep-hugging cotton-voile and batik kurta-inspired shirts; the colour palette completely inspired by said sunset.
“It was a kinda ‘Sexy Man’ collection – everybody was wearing tight clothes back then,” he laughs.
McIntosh knew exactly who he was catering to, though: “The Caribbean/Trinidadian man who is adventurous, always in and out of the country, who stays in resorts when he travels, holds his meetings with drinks poolside… Somebody who is Classic but wants a casual look,” he explains.
Solid media exposure after that successful Red Runway show went a long way. People wanted to buy.
“There was ‘buzz’,” he says. “The timing of that was good too because I remember I was really going through it in life at that time (in between jobs, a breakup, a broken-down van…).
“Then, I remember a friend and I went to Paprika (nightclub) one weekend. I styled us and we were, you know, feelin’ ourselves, looking good! And I passed a crowd and heard a girl say ‘that’s the guy I saw in the papers’. That felt good!
"I remember thinking ‘I want to see how far this Rabbit Hole goes…’"
The ‘hole’ led him to the world of working with musical artistes, and to him finally figuring out his place and voice in the industry as a Contemporary Streetwear designer, selling not just clothes anymore, but accessories now too.
Streetwear, in his case, is not to be mistaken for Urban, he explains.
“Urban, in my opinion, reminds me of hoodies, track suits, a 90s R&B and Hip Hop vibe, even… I see a fixed category. That is one aspect of Street, but I think Street in general is like a cosmopolitan vibe of everything – Asians, Blacks, Whites, whomever, bringing their different cultures, personalities and styles to the table."
“I think some designer said it perfectly: you can see the greatest fashion show ever just by standing up in the street and people-watching. And in the street, with Streetwear, you can still see a Classic man!”
Sourcing inspiration far and wide, from New York’s Soho to Port of Spain’s Charlotte Street, the former FIT student was finally able to find his ‘person’.
“I am (now) creating for a young, adventurous rock star. Not only artistes, but people that have artistic characteristics; who are fashionable, free and not bound to any of life’s constructs…”
There’s no denying that he has done the work (he even used to give away free clothes to socialites to get the name out); but it also took an active social media presence (and relentlessly tagging the right people in his content) for him to catch the eye of his first ‘rock star’ – Soca Artist Kees Dieffenthaller.
“I’d style pieces in a very eclectic way, share it on Facebook, tag Kees, tag Kerwin Du Bois, Bunji (Garlin), Machel (Montano)…and I’d be doing that for months! I know they fed up of me – them know me!
“I got Kees on Twitter and he ended up wearing my stuff for the launch of his song ‘Endless Summer’. That opened the door for more work with him, which eventually ran its course, and then there was Olatunji…”
McIntosh describes his 8-month stint with the X-Factor-famed Soca Artist as one of his biggest accomplishments in fashion and costume design. “This is how the William McIntosh name was able to stand up,” he says.
“It was that rock star life, as you can imagine...Everywhere his entourage went, I went, and my sole job was just to make sure that everybody had ‘drip’.”
Lucky for him, this is exactly in line with his aspirations of being the Style Right-hand for the likes of Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert and Saint Jhn... "even females like Teyana Taylor could rock my stuff because, the way I design now, it’s strayed away from men to become more gender-less.”
Needless to say, whatever the city, he’s definitely on the right street...and finally freed from the box.
www.iamwilliammcintosh.com / @william.mcintosh