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Pharrell Williams Named Creative Director For Louis Vuitton's Menswear Collection

Megaproducer Pharrell Williams, who has his own unique sense of style, has been selected to be the new Creative Director for Louis Vuitton's Menswear collection.

via WSJ:

The talks come as Louis Vuitton, the crown jewel of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, looks to extend a run of growth emerging from the pandemic. That growth has helped propel LVMH to the largest stock-market valuation in Europe—and turned Bernard Arnault, the conglomerate’s chairman and CEO, into the world’s richest person, recently outdistancing Elon Musk.

While Mr. Abloh’s profile exploded over the course of his three years at Vuitton, ultimately making him one of the most recognizable fashion designers in the world, Mr. Williams would assume the position as a genuine celebrity already—one who has been a judge on “The Voice,” voiced a character in “Sing 2” and racked up two Oscar nominations, 13 Grammy Award wins and a bevy of number-one singles.

A representative for Mr. Williams did not respond to a request for comment. An LVMH spokesman declined to comment.

LVMH’s strategy of aligning with splashy, big-name creatives contrasts with the more traditional route to hiring recently taken by Kering SA, one of its largest luxury industry rivals. In late January, Gucci, Kering’s flagship brand, named Sabato de Sarno, a little-known Italian designer who previously worked at Valentino SpA, as its new creative director.

Mr. Williams, meanwhile, is best known as a music hitmaker, responsible for chart-conquering earworms like “Happy” and “Blurred Lines”—but nevertheless has a lengthy résumé as an apparel entrepreneur.

He would arrive at a highflying time for Louis Vuitton. It took the fashion house 164 years to become the luxury industry’s first $10 billion brand back in 2018, but it doubled that figure in four years. Analysts say that $20 billion in revenue makes it the biggest luxury brand in the world.

Still, there are new economic headwinds for the company and the industry. Many analysts are expecting an economic softening in key markets, including the U.S. and Europe. It is also a period of change at Louis Vuitton directly. This month, Chief Executive Michael Burke and Executive Vice President Delphine Arnault, Mr. Arnault’s daughter, handed off leadership of the brand. Taking over Louis Vuitton is Italian executive Pietro Beccari, the outgoing boss at Dior.

In one of his first forays in fashion in the early 2000s, well into his career as a pop megaproducer, Mr. Williams paired with Japanese fashion icon Nigo, who is now the creative director of Kenzo, another brand under the LVMH umbrella, to found the pioneering streetwear label Billionaire Boys Club as well as a skateboarding-inspired shoe brand, Ice Cream.

A 2005 clip shows a young Mr. Williams at Ice Cream’s Tokyo store, standing beside Nigo, who he affectionately calls “the General.” “Can’t believe it man, like it’s really happening,” said Mr. Williams, staring in awe at a display case of his brand’s lavender and baby-blue sneakers.

Mr. Williams’s earlier forays were lavish and logo-mad, defined by full-zip hoodies splayed with neon-colored dollar-sign prints, and jewel-tone shoes. Product drops would draw crowds of cool-hunting teens and 20-somethings to the brand’s shops in New York and Japan.

Three years later, in what retrospectively looks like a sign of things to come, Mr. Williams collaborated with Louis Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs on a series of jewelry designs and the blocky aviator-esque “Millionaire” sunglasses. “Vuitton for me is a school,” said Mr. Williams in a 2008 interview discussing his collaboration with Mr. Jacobs. “I’ve just learned a lot being here.”

Today, pairs of those sunglasses continue to sell for over $1,000 on resale sites like Grailed.

Further collaborations followed with fashion heavyweights like Diesel, Chanel and Moncler. Mr. Williams has also worked with Adidas for nearly a decade on a co-branded line of clothes and shoes, including the sock-esque NMD Hu sneakers with New Age-y words like “Breathe,” “Clouds” and “Body” stitched along the front.

In the past few years, Mr. Williams has joined the rush of celebrities jumping in to launch skin-care products with the brand Humanrace, selling $36 “Rice Powder” cleansers and $52 “Ozone Body Protection” sunscreen.

Yet his largest impact in the fashion world is likely his own forward-looking choices in attire, even if he’s felt reticent about that role in the past. “It embarrasses me a bit to be a figure in fashion,” he told the Journal in 2014. “I think everyone is interested in what they put on, even if you dress conservatively.”

In 2015 he was awarded the Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, appearing on stage to receive the award in a blue leather jacket and worn-in jeans. “No one has better style than the everyday American people,” he said during a brief speech. “Why? Because they’re the real thing and they live it everyday. I could never be as cool as them but I’m happy to take notes.”

Most recently, Mr. Williams has been the embodiment of this moment’s boundary-free mixing of streetwear and luxury, wearing both $240 putty-print hoodies from Cactus Plant Flea Market, run by his former assistant Cynthia Lu, and diamond-encrusted Tiffany & Co. sunglasses. (Tiffany & Co. is another LVMH brand.)

Mr. Williams and Mr. Abloh also had a longstanding relationship and shared admiration for each other. In a 2017 interview with the Journal, Mr. Abloh said Mr. Williams was one of his five ideal dinner companions. When Mr. Abloh died, Mr. Williams tweeted out “My heart is broken Virgil you were a kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius.” He sat in the front row at a Louis Vuitton show in Miami days after Mr. Abloh’s death.

At Louis Vuitton, fusing heritage and hype has been a successful play on its men’s side for several years. It collaborated with cult streetwear label Supreme in 2017, and hired Mr. Abloh as its menswear designer the following year. In collections that melded dramatic, avant-garde tailoring and pictorial intarsia sweaters with hulking sneakers and high-end hoodies, Mr. Abloh both appealed to the brand’s entrenched big-money clientele and brought in a younger, splashier consumer.

I think LV made the right choice. Pharrell is definitely a fashion trend setter, and this is definitely a good look not only for the fashion industry, but for the culture.

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