Pharrell Williams’ first offering as the new creative director for menswear at Louis Vuitton won’t be public until men’s fashion week in Paris in June. But his past collaborations and his own style evolution hint at what may be to come.
Williams has operated Billionaire Boys Club and its sister brand Ice Cream since 2003, fusing luxury and street fashion with Japanese streetwear designer Nigo. The following year, he did his first collaboration with Louis Vuitton, the “Millionaire” sunglasses.
Virgil Abloh, the first Black creative director at Louis Vuitton, pulled the sunglasses from the archive for his debut runway show with the fashion house in 2018, calling them the “1.1 millionaires.” (Abloh died in 2021 after a quiet two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma.)
Abloh shared a photo of the sunglasses on Instagram, post-show, writing: “ “1.1 millionaires” @louisvuitton in honor of @pharrell & @nigo ~ things that the runway show might not show.”
“I am glad to welcome Pharrell back home, after our collaborations in 2004 and 2008 for Louis Vuitton, as our new Men’s Creative Director,” said Louis Vuitton’s chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari. “His creative vision beyond fashion will undoubtedly lead Louis Vuitton towards a new and very exciting chapter.”
In its announcement of Williams’ appointment on Tuesday, Louis Vuitton called him a “visionary whose creative universes expand from music, to art, and to fashion.”
Williams isn’t a designer by training. He began his creative career in the early 1990s as half of the hip-hop production duo The Neptunes, working with artists ranging from Mystikal to Gwen Stefani. He has won 13 Grammy Awards, including three for producer of the year, and has been nominated twice for an Academy Award.
Since the early 2000s, Williams has been known for his personal style and ability to create trends. He understands hype and is able to make it profitable. He isn’t afraid to take risks whether that’s wearing a trucker hat and a skater T-shirt at a time when the trend was for hip-hop artists to wear baggy jeans and even baggier T-shirts.
Remember the huge purple croc Hermés Birkin bag he was sporting back in 2007 or the Vivienne Westwood Buffalo hat? Williams doesn’t restrict his style to gender norms, either.
“Since I was a little boy, I lived in my head,” Williams said during his acceptance speech for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s fashion icon award in 2015.
“There were no rules, just a dreamland,” he continued. “ ‘What if?’ land. It’s the first step when you don’t have the means. The second step comes naturally: It’s when someone encourages you for being different. They also free you from the ubiquitous matrix of opinions.”
During that speech, Williams gave some insight into the origins of his eagerness to customize his belongings.
“Jordans are incredible, but they were out of my price range,” he said. “Vans and Chuck Taylors were affordable, and most importantly, they were the perfect canvas for do-it-yourself. DIY got me through high school.”
It also earned him a lot of collaborations, too.
Besides his previous work with Louis Vuitton, Williams created a fragrance with Comme des Garçons, a line of luxury locomotive-inspired handbags with Moynat and even a limited-edition set of macarons with Ladurée and Colette.
He was friends with Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director at Chanel, and collaborated with him often. He has a sunglasses collaboration with Tiffany & Co. on the way.
Besides his style aesthetic, Williams is interested in reimagining what sustainability looks like in fashion. A lot of his clothing collaborations use Bionic Yarn, a fiber derived from recycled plastic bottles found in the ocean. Williams co-founded Bionic Yarn in 2010 and has since teamed up with Adidas, Moncler and G-Star.
His personal style and constant collaborations make him an interesting choice for Louis Vuitton, one of the leading fashion brands in the world. Just as he has for the last two decades, Williams is likely to tap into all of his interests, bring his creativity to them and move on.
Channing Hargrove is a senior writer at Andscape covering fashion. That’s easier than admitting how strongly she identifies with the lyrics “Single Black female addicted to retail.”