Rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and now menswear creative director.
Analysts and forecasters reacted to Pharrell Williams’ recent appointment as creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton without surprise. If anyone could fill the shoes of the multi-hyphenate late designer Virgil Abloh, it would be Williams.
“Pharrell is one of the most well-known multi-hyphenates,” says Sarah Unger, president and founder of Cultique, a cultural insights and strategy consultancy. “He crystallized our understanding of the industry-agnostic cultural appeal a musician can have. LV is a very multi-hyphenate brand—beyond a typical fashion house. Pharrell will have lots of arenas to play in.”
Williams is a logical move, following Abloh, and is no stranger to fashion. He created streetwear brands Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream footwear, and partnered with brands like Adidas and Moncler.
“There is no doubt that Pharrell will likely make his unique impact based on his outsized style sensibilities,” says Hemant Kalbag, managing director, Alvarez & Marsal Consumer Retail Group. “But I don’t anticipate a fundamental directional change. That said, Pharrell will help keep LV relevant to the next generation of LV customers.”
Williams will showcase his first collection for the French luxury house in June during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris. The show will mark five years after Abloh’s celebrated debut collection for the brand, where the audience included: Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, ASAP Rocky, Takashi Murakami, Travis Scott and more. More than 2,000 guests attended the event, held at the Palais Royal, including thousands of local students that Abloh had personally invited. In total, the show featured 56 men’s looks, including apparel, accessories and shoes.
What The Future Holds
Williams’ multidisciplinary resume might offer clues of what customers can expect from his tenure at Louis Vuitton, notes Kayla Marci, a market analyst at Edited.
“His impact on streetwear, amplified via his personal style and Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream labels, reinforces the culture’s continued role in luxury, carrying on Virgil Abloh’s legacy,” Marci says.
Williams’ partnerships with Adidas showcase the recording artist-turned-designer’s ability to foray into heritage products and refresh the vibe for a new generation, i.e. Samba, which could translate into upcoming collections at Vuitton, the analyst projects.
“Through contemporizing legacy styles and house codes,” Marci says. “His history with the sporting giant also fuels speculation of a future Louis Vuitton x Adidas collaboration.”
Williams’ strong connection to the music community will attract new consumers, Kalbag estimates.
“However, the fundamental demographic—younger, more urban, social meddia savvy—is unlikely to change as a draw,” Kalbag says. “It is unclear if Pharrell will have the same global draw as Virgil, who often collaborated with designers worldwide, albeit his global presence and household name recognition far exceeds that of Virgil.”
Other Creative Collaborations
Given the continued consumer passion for travel and crossover between travel and fashion, Unger is eager to see how that might unfold with Vuitton’s new artistic director.
“I’m especially curious to see if Pharrell puts his stamp on the LV hotel coming to Paris,” Unger says.
In addition, Williams’ gender-neutral skincare line Humanrace, may provide interesting avenues for Vuitton, Unger says, especially as the skincare sector booms in popularity.
Williams has talked in the past about finding inspiration from ubiquitous sources such as billboards and construction, Unger says.
So “perhaps we will see him get location-specific, tapping into the culture of his Virginia Beach roots, or perhaps he’ll draw from architecture,” Unger says. “Back in 2013, there was talk of Pharrell designing prefab homes with the late architect Zaha Hadid. Would love to see those blueprints surface.”
Whatever creative route Williams takes at Vuitton, his inaugural fashion collection in June will be highly anticipated and met with intense scrutiny, Marci says, given the pressure on Williams to follow in Abloh’s and previous designers’ footsteps.
“The events of 2022 have led fashion netizens to meet celebrity designers with heightened skepticism, requiring quality designs and wearable products to be emphasized instead of relying purely on hype and creating viral moments,” Marci says.
The menswear designer role at Vuitton has been open since Abloh, the first African-American to hold the men’s artistic director role at Vuitton, died of cancer in November 2021.
Fashion was one vehicle Abloh, a trained engineer, architect, DJ and creator of the Off-White luxury label, used to connect the past and the future.
“Essential to my show concept is a global view on diversity linked to the travel DNA of the [Louis Vuitton] brand,” Abloh posted on Instagram, about his first collection for Vuitton in Paris, writing in the caption: “You can do it too…”
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