The past few seasons have seen a number of designer debuts in the fashion world, but few were as eagerly anticipated as the debut of Pharrell Williams at Louis Vuitton, who succeeds the late Virgil Abloh in the role. The 13-time Grammy Award-winning producer and rapper presented his first collection to the French house on the first day of Paris Men’s Fashion Week on 20 June.
As part of the Spring/Summer 2024 show, Pharrell closed Paris’ famous Pont Neuf bridge, covered it in gold, ran down a catwalk and filled it with a fashion spectacle that made it immediately clear that the latest trend is once again to impress – and now LVMH, Europe’s most valuable company, is at his disposal. This was not just a star-studded catwalk show. With its paradigm shift, the brand has moved into the universe of art and entertainment (show business), and of course it hasn’t forgotten its great predecessor! “I dedicate this moment to the giant in front of me. A brother in spirit,” Williams wrote of the late Virgil Abloh, former creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.
While some were sceptical about Pharrell’s appointment when it was announced earlier this year, he made it clear with this collection that he was able to successfully blend his own personality with the unlikely heritage of one of the most famous luxury fashion houses. The knot between Virginia Beach and Paris was tied with looks that were full of references to Pharrell’s own style, which has been a major influence on hip-hop fashion for decades. Everyone probably has their own thoughts and criticisms of Skateboard P’s first collection.
Born Pharrell Lanscilo Williams in 1973 in Virginia Beach, Williams met Chad Hugo at a seventh-grade summer band camp, where Williams played drums and Hugo played tenor saxophone. They went to Princess Anne High School, where they played in the school band, but soon after, with the addition of Shay Haley and Mike Etheridge, they formed the band the Neptunes in the early ’90s and quickly began working as producers with such faces as Pusha T, Mystikal, Nelly (his most successful single, “Hot in Herre”) and even Jay-Z. But we could also mention Kelis’ first two albums, “Kaleidoscope” and “Wanderland”, but the Neptunes produced Britney Spears’ songs “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Boys” on Britney’s third studio album. They produced several songs on Justin Timberlake’s debut album Justified, including singles “Señorita”, “Like I Love You” and “Rock Your Body”. According to a 2003 survey, the Neptunes produced almost 20% of the songs played on British radio at the time; another US survey found that 43% of radio songs at the time were associated with their name. Their prominence was present throughout the decade: think of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”, but Williams also worked with Madonna, of course, on the Hard Candy album in 2008. In 2013, Williams collaborated with French band Daft Punk on the songs “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance”, both of which are featured on Daft Punk’s fourth studio album Random Access Memories. Williams wrote three songs for the film Despicable Me 2 (2013), which featured in the film alongside music by composer Heitor Pereira: “Just a Cloud Away”, the hugely successful “Happy” and “Scream”. And, incredibly, this year also saw the release of Robin Thicke’s single “Blurred Lines”, which Williams wrote and produced.
Is Williams’ appointment a real and definitive confirmation of hip-hop’s influence on contemporary fashion? Or is it another conspicuous marketing gimmick by LVMH, increasingly influenced by star power? It is undeniable that Pharrell has had an indelible impact on contemporary street fashion. But over the past two decades, he has become much more than just a stylish producer from Virginia Beach. Today, he is a multi-millionaire entrepreneur who owns his own creative think tank, i am OTHER, the popular Something in the Water music festival, the Humanrace Adidas sneaker and clothing collection, and the Humanrace skincare brand, runs clothing brands Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, the OTHERtone podcast, charities Black Ambition and Yellow, and now has a starring role in the world of Louis Vuitton – and for good reason, as we can see.