CHAINS ON SKATEBOARD P: WHY PHARRELL WILLIAMS AT LOUIS VUITTON IS SO IMPORTANT
Last week, Louis Vuitton sent shockwaves through the fashion world when the luxury fashion house announced Pharrell Williams as the new Creative Director of their men’s line. Nobody expected it. Finding a worthy predecessor to the late great Virgil Abloh was always going to be a challenge, but is Williams’ appointment the right move? And what impact will it have globally?
Australia is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in the world; with our melting pot of various ethnic communities, each contributing to our rich, forward-thinking fashion culture. Simply take a step outside in Naarm/Melbourne you’re inundated with hundreds of different types of culture – from fashion and sneakers to graffiti art and food. The tapestry is endless, and you don’t have to look far to find a pair of Bapesta‘s on foot. Dedicated to the legendary Nike Air Force 1, the Bapesta is one of the 21st century’s most iconic and desired sneakers, popularised by none other than Skateboard P himself.
“Ice Cream sneakers, I signed my first skater. So you can pay three and buy yourself some Bapesta’s.”Pharrell on ‘Mr Me Too’ (Hell Hath No Fury, 2006)
Pharrell Williams is one of the most important figures in music and pop culture ever. EVER. His contribution is immeasurable and his influence is unmatched. While his music resume is the stuff of legend, his grip on fashion culture since the turn of the century is less understood and appreciated by the general public. Yet, they are two important halves of a remarkable narrative.
The genius of Pharrell began back in the early 90s when the Virginia Beach local took up music as a hobby beside his older cousin who had started making beats, that cousin is now the four-time Grammy award-winning producer known as Timbaland. The hobby would soon blossom via the formation of The Neptunes with Chad Hugo while P was still in high school. After being discovered by Teddy Reily and producing for Blackstreet, the songwriting /production duo got their first break in 1998 when ‘Superthug’ by NY-rapper Noreaga topped the Billboard Rap charts. This led to working closely with The Clipse, helping push them into hip-hop stardom, and soon after names including Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Kelis, Justin Timberlake, JAY-Z, and Britney Spears were regular collaborators. Add to this the early mentorship of a young Kanye West, as well as a lazy 13 Grammys, and Pharrell’s accolades are enough to last several lifetimes.
Music aside, Pharrell was always fresh. A Bathing Ape, more commonly known as BAPE, is the infamous starting point for Pharrell’s fashion chokehold. Founded by Nigo in Japan in 1993, the streetwear brand was catapulted onto the global stage via Pharrell’s constant proud support of its cutting-edge, youth-centric designs. Nigo and Pharrell became great friends, and in 2003 went on to co-found Billionaire Boys Club, which would also be home to their other brand, Ice Cream.
The recent appointment isn’t the first time Pharrell has linked with the luxury empire, both he and Nigo designed the ‘Millionaire’ collection in 2005 for Louis Vuitton. The central piece was the aviator glasses, which were re-released two years later and are now seen as a classic in the Louis Vuitton archive. This was followed up in 08′ when P designed the “Blason” jewelry line, which featured a gold belt buckle embroiled with diamonds, necklaces, and two rings both made of gold and white diamonds.
“Virgil bridged the gap between luxury apparel and street with OFF-WHITE, so it was logical when LV put him on. It will be interesting with Pharrell, as BBC (Billionaire Boys Club) kinda made street accessible to all.”Steve Kirby (Co-founder & Creative Director of WNDRR)
Such is his influence, over a decade later Virgil Abloh’s first sunglasses release for Louis Vuitton in 2019 was the ‘Millionaire 1.1‘s; a direct nod to Pharrell. While Virgil’s legend is beyond words, having undoubtedly changed how luxury fashion is created, consumed, and intertwined with hip-hop culture forever; it was Pharrell Williams who was the first hip-hop figure to ever work with LV. It’s only fitting for the role to now come full circle and be placed in the hands of the original visionary.
There’s a swathe of world-class designers who all would have been good suitors for the role; names like Kid Super, Martine Rose, Grace Wales Bonner, Telfar Clemens, or even Heron Preston come to mind. And sure, Pharrell being Pharrell is undoubtedly a huge factor in his appointment. But it’s a misconception to believe that it’s the only factor. Pharrell has the vision to carry the brand into its next venture and to carve out a legacy for the next deserving candidate to step into the role after him. With Nigo at Kenzo, which is also under the parenthood of LV, something is definitely brewing.
The arms of Louis Vuitton stretch wider than most within the luxury fashion industry. According to Forbes Magazine in 2020, Louis Vuitton was ranked the 9th most valuable brand in the entire world, one behind technology giant Samsung and directly ahead of McDonalds. In the luxury category, LV tops the list with a valuation of $47.2 billion USD, more than double the value of its nearest competitor, Gucci.
With a burgeoning domestic fashion scene, it is of little surprise that Louis Vuitton stores are located in every major city in Australia. According to the City of Melbourne in 2021, the financial impact of Melbourne Fashion Week alone was $41.7m, a staggering 1000% increase from 2015. With over 150,000 people flocking to Naarm every year for the event which showcases over 600 emerging designers, across 10 different runways, it is clear that the demand for luxury fashion is only increasing.
But how will a favorable landscape shape the reign of Pharrell at the helm of LV? If his track record is anything to go by we can expect innovation, access, and the platforming of emerging talent. His eye for being ahead of the curve and transporting rising brands into the stratosphere is remarkable. From Human Race to BAPE. Chanel Pharrell. Pharrell put on COMME des GARÇONS before it was even a thing. He’s had his own line at Uniqlo. From Teyana Taylor to Pusha T, to designer Cynthia Lu who worked under Pharrell at Billionaire Boys Club and i am OTHER – all before he was one of the first people spotted in the label when it launched. Not to mention Cactus Flea Market which wouldn’t exist without his influence!
“It’s amazing to see a godfather of streetwear/hip hop ascend to a higher stratosphere of cultural execution. Pharrell and Nigo uniting under LVHM once again feels like the end of a streetwear fairy tale.“Jode Carstens (Style writer for Complex AU)
In a sector that has long valued celebrity status over actual designers, Pharrell could be the one to give creators their voice back. And in a global hip-hop/fashion climate where Australia is one of the most exciting emerging markets, why wouldn’t he look down under for inspiration? Recordings artists including The Kid LAROI. and Sampa The Great have broken into the upper echelon of the music world, models including Adut Akech and Ducki Thot are gracing covers and desired runways internationally, and streetwear brands WNDRR, JUDAH., and Geedup Co. among others are steadily getting major looks daily. It’s not too far a stretch to envisage Pharrell’s time at Louis Vuitton embracing aspects of our local scene.
Regardless of the vehicle, Pharrell Williams at the creative steering wheel of anything is electrifying. When it happens to be the most powerful fashion house on the planet, the opportunities and potential innovations are wilder than any imagination. And while the role his celebrity status plays in the appointment, and what it means for the ongoing commodification of black culture, are valid discussion points that should and will be debated, it is hard to not be excited at what this next chapter may bring.
It feels poetic. To see the LV baton passed from the enigmatic Virgil Abloh to his close friend and collaborator Pharrell Williams is exactly the ‘streetwear fairytale’ that has been described. One can picture Virgil sitting proudly, overseeing the transition and greasing the wheels of Skateboard P’s tenure. And is with that in mind that we wish him every success.