Willie Gees at True T Studios: Malcolm Williams Spring Residency

The artist residency program is back at True T, this time setting our sites on the world of fashion. Designer and entrepreneur Malcolm Williams and his stunning line, Willie Gee’s are calling True T home through the month of June and their pieces already have people talking. Malcolm recently got together with the True T blog team to chat about Willie Gee’s, his inspirations and what folks who visit the studio this spring should be excited for.

So what is Willie Gees? That was the first question on my mind when we sat down last month. Willie Gee’s (named for his grandparents Willie “Papa Willie” Williams and Georgette Williams), was created in 2006 as a passion project by a young Malcolm when he was in high school and functions as two lines: Willie Gee’s Couture for wedding gowns and formal wear and Willie Gee’s FAMOUZ focussing on high end streetwear. Originally inspired by his mother’s ability to hem and care for her own clothing, Williams couldn’t help but to be fascinated by her skills. “While my brothers were playing video games, I just wanted to use her sewing machine,” Malcolm remembered while laughing. Starting with simple sewing, he then moved on to creating his own patterns with his mom and she helped with special looks like an all denim look for a high school prom party. “It was so special…it had this Siberian tiger on the back because at the time I was completely obsessed with them.”

Sometime around then, Williams began sketching his first ideas for wedding gowns as a hobby. “I just had this vision of this beautiful bride that I couldn’t get out of my head.” His love for formal wear was also born out of being a church going boy and seeing the way folks dressed up every Sunday. Seeing his community always seemingly dressed to perfection was a huge part of the inspiration of the beginning of the line. Along with support from his family, Williams also had educators that noticed his work at Carrick High School. It was there that an English teacher noticed his talent and together they came up with an idea to display some of his first fashions in a presentation during the school’s talent show.

After high school, in 2009 Williams went on to produce a full show at the Omni William Penn after being inspired by another local designer and friend. In recent years the Couture line has continued its legacy of custom high end prom fashions — to date he has designed well over 100 gowns for local high schoolers. This also acted as a starting point for Malcolm’s childhood dream of creating custom wedding dresses with five produced in the last year. But that of course is just half of the story.

The beginning of Willie Gee’s FAMOUZ started with friends asking for something more casual from Malcolm. While it was a departure from his original designs, the inspiration for what it became was from his late boyfriend Tyler D. Lane also known as King.  Passing away in 2019, Lane was a graphic artist influenced by his time in Pennsylvania along with years spent living in Orlando. Originally not knowing how to use a sewing machine, Lane picked up the craft and skills through his relationship with Williams eventually developing his own line that he dubbed with his nickname, King FAMOUZ. With Lane’s family’s blessing, Williams developed today’s FAMOUZ line in his memory and the designs that have come from it are sure to catch your eye.

When asking Malcolm about the look Willie Gees is focused on now, he couldn’t help but to reflect on the growth of the brand. “So much has changed since we started” and the changes in question is what brought Gees to True T. Referring to the residency as “a blessing at the right time”, Williams explained that while the line has had a few different places to call home in the last few years due to challenges from the pandemic, nothing has been as great a fit as True T for him and his collaborator and childhood friend,  Reggie Howze. The main focus of the duo’s work for the residency is centered around their FAMOUZ Lovers brand, a combination of Williams streetwear vibe with Howze’s Heart on a Sleeve collection. A graphic designer by trade, it is Reggie’s work that helped to create the full vision behind the Famous Lovers look.

“Everything is from the heart, which has a crack in it. The crack represents struggle and pain that we all have to go through in the situations we love – Family, work, friends there’s all love put towards it but there’s always a struggle and a pain that we have to work through. It’s something we all have to overcome”

This new and exciting chapter of Willie Gees is coming to life right now in the True T studio with the duo working together tirelessly on new designs with the public welcome to stop in and see their process. From our chat it’s clear that William’s has his heart set on inspiring people to start designing on their own or to at the very least know that it’s possible.

Through vendor popups and in person design classes later this month, all are welcome to explore and create if they are interested in fashion. “ I want to make sure participants have everything they need from materials to sketch pads – I want folks to be able to create.” From ideas, to sketching and drafting, to stitching and working a machine, Williams is poised and ready to teach Pittsburgh’s next great fashion designer.

“I want to pull artistry from fashion. I have so much to show the world.”

The design classes as well as the pop up are coming up this month so be sure to check the True T events page on Facebook and  follow us on Instagram @truetpgh. And if you want to see even more from Willie Gee’s, Malcolm Williams is also gearing up for their 6th season fashion show this August.