“Fashion Is a Way”—How Pharrell Williams’ Philosophy Could Make Him and Louis Vuitton a Great Fit (Plus Great Fits)

Photographed by Acielle | @styledumonde

Props to the Wall Street Journal (and near-simultaneously Le Figaro, which also acquired the intel before others) for breaking yesterday’s news that Pharrell Williams is Louis Vuitton’s new Menswear Creative Director. Nearly instantly, that spore of fact bloomed via social media’s humid space into a spectrum of opinion from the celebratory (he’s the OG! ) to the cynical (but he didn’t go to fashion school!).

We’ll have to wait until June to discover what Williams is thinking and making, but there are already a few factors that suggest he could make a great fit—and epic fits—at Louis Vuitton. These are based less on his powerfully multidisciplinary CV of production across countless cultural categories—you can just Google those—than on certain things he has recently said about how he works. Let’s lay out a few of them here.

Back in November, Williams gave Vogue Business an interview about his skincare line, Humanrace. The final piece was mostly focused on that cosmetic subject, but Williams also shared some telling elements of his philosophy of creation—a philosophy that you can be sure he will apply to Louis Vuitton. He said: “There are only 12 notes in music. I can’t own any one of them: Not possible. But the way that I arrange them, my compositions: That’s what’s ownable… and to say I’ve discovered this, I own that, that’s a very colonial mentality… it’s the same with ‘red’: there’s no such thing as discovering it; it’s about how we use it. It’s the way that we apply it. And it’s funny. The way, or the fashion. When people say, What is fashion? Fashion is a way.”

Asked whether his core discipline of musical production informs his other endeavors, Williams replied: “Absolutely. Essentially all I’m doing is expressing myself with any company that I have. They exist in different tranches, but if you look at the core of them, it all comes back to my self-expression, my experiences with the codes, and my willingness to share them with my subscribers.”

Then, as he showed the interviewer his new line of Made In Italy hoodies towards the end of the interview, he used an analogy to explain his thoughts about fulfilling multiple creative roles simultaneously. “OK, with you, let’s take your boss, and let’s take your significant other. Who you are to your boss is a completely different person than who you are to your significant other. Yet you’re still the same person.”

Virgil Abloh and Pharrell Williams, together in New York in 2016.Photo: Getty Images

All of this suggests that Williams will bring the best of himself to Louis Vuitton. And even if he hasn’t gone to fashion school—the most common criticism being slung his way online—there’s no doubting that he’s enjoyed a pretty incredible education. Just one example: Last September in Paris, Vogue’s Anna Wintour invited Williams to speak at the announcement of this year’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Exhibition. Introducing Andrew Bolton, who is curating “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” Williams said: “I first heard about Chanel through The Notorious B.I.G…. [but] I never thought in a million years that I would ever meet Karl. You see, he had a vision for lifestyle and design. His creativity was always led by a narrative. There was always a story. For him, everything was about a scene. If you knew what the scene was, then you knew the kind of people that were there. And if you knew what kind of people that were there, then you knew what they were wearing. And most likely what they were thinking.”

He later added: “Detail is what made him so good. Karl was the ultimate collaborator—he would embrace others’ ideas and come back with them bifurcated a thousand-fold. He had an innate ability to be deeply and subliminally personal, and was a master at communicating in ways that usually words never could… I’m inspired to carry his true love and partnership into my own creative process. And I know that I feel super lucky—no pun intended—I feel super fortunate to be able to tell people: Man, I was there. I saw it. I felt it. I experienced his energy.”

One last point of reference comes from one of Pharrell’s own OTHERtone podcasts, his first of 2021, in which he was joined by Virgil Abloh (plus Scott, KAWS, and Fam-Lay) to discuss creativity. When Abloh mentions being in the Vuitton studio, Williams acknowledges the mic-drop power of that achievement. And later, after Abloh has referred to the inflatable sculpture he had just commissioned the LV studio to prepare (for what would prove to be the house’s first show after his sudden death), the designer discusses his legacy.

Abloh says: “What I would be more impressed by is if the next candidate for a house, the next head designer, has this multidisciplinary background—comes from not a fashion school, and thinks in a different dimension. Let him get a shot.”

Williams—of course unwitting of the future to come—adds: “And what I love about you [meaning Abloh] is you really get and exercise the idea that we need to be holding open the doors that we got through. And there hasn’t been a lot of that. You know, in fact, there are people who superglue the doors behind them shut! We do the exact opposite. We hold the doors open. We share the codes.”

Pharrell Williams to Louis Vuitton is, for sure, a “celebrity hire.” Colm Dillane did a great job at January’s most recent LV mens show—a really great job, from where I was sitting—but the house felt obliged to help him fill menswear’s biggest single stage with Rosalía and other collaborators. Williams has the wattage to fill that stage alone. And should he elect to hold the doors open, following the legacy of Lagerfeld and Abloh and leaning on the input of Nigo [with whom he co-owns the streetwear brand Human Made], and define his intentional approach to Louis Vuitton’s output, then you suspect that he will find his way—a.k.a. fashion.

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