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Pharrell breaks down barriers between fashion and music

PARIS (AFP) – Paris became a playground for Pharrell Williams and his celeb friends at his debut show for Louis Vuitton, collapsing the distance between fashion, music and money-spinning publicity.

US Louis Vuitton fashion designer and singer Pharrell Williams acknowledges the audience at the end of the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring-Summer 2024 show as part of the Paris Fashion Week on the Pont Neuf, central Paris, on June 20. PHOTO: AFP

Williams is the first musician to be put in charge of designing clothes for a major luxury brand with an eye-popping EUR20 billion (USD22 billion) in revenue last year.

He has experience working with fashion houses in the past, but the bosses at Louis Vuitton were clearly also interested in the guestlist he could put together. And he did not disappoint on Tuesday night with the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, LeBron James, Lewis Hamilton and many more in the front row.

“We try to speak to different clients,” Louis Vuitton boss Pietro Beccari told AFP just before it started.

“With the media echoes from tonight, people that have never heard of Vuitton… maybe they’ll push the door of one of those stores and come and see.”

Big extravaganza shows are nothing new — brands have spent millions on lavish set designs and celebrity guests going back to the 1990s and beyond.

But Williams took it up a notch, composing a new up-tempo song, JOY (Unspeakable) performed by full gospel choir, and ending the night with a concert by Jay-Z at which he also sang, all in the highly Instagrammable environs of the Pont Neuf over the River Seine. 

“It’s a pretty monumental moment. You can rarely predict big moments in fashion but when you have the combination of cultural force like Pharrell and cultural brand like Louis Vuitton you know something interesting is going to happen,” Imran Amed, founder of the Business of Fashion news site, told AFP.

Trying to find out what people actually thought of the clothes is tricky.

Fashion sites, heavily dependent on advertising from the brands, rarely question design choices anymore.

But Williams largely played it safe, leaning heavily on LV’s classic Damier check pattern, though putting it in some bold new primary colours.

There were a lot of pixelated looks and some camouflage vibes that Williams has nicknamed “damoflage”.

“By revisiting the accessories and leather goods that have made LV so successful, Pharrell Williams demonstrates that he understands the challenge and the codes of this iconic house,” Pierre Alexandre M’Pele, editor of GQ France, told AFP. 

Some things felt fresh. While gender mixing has become common in fashion, it remains rare in the big labels which have separate artistic directors for menswear and womenswear.

“By parading women for his first collection, Pharrell Williams is blowing a new wind at Louis Vuitton where until then, male and female models were separated,” said M’Pele.

There have been some quiet grumblings among fashionistas that a more dedicated designer was not given the top job.

But Beccari was clear that he needed “someone who had something extra” for the house to complement womenswear director Nicolas Ghesquière – a “traditional couturier”.

“It’s a perfect mix for a brand that is present in 72 countries with 450 stores and which not only sells products, but tells great stories,” he said.

Pharrell studied neither music nor fashion, but with 13 Grammys and an Oscar nomination, “everything he touches turns to gold,” said Beccari.

Williams appears to be taking the job seriously, having moved his family to Paris and setting up a music studio at Louis Vuitton’s headquarters to balance his professions.

“His next album was 90 per cent composed in Paris in front of his window, facing La Samaritaine”, said Beccari.