Pharrell Williams’ Louis Vuitton Debut Proves Yet Again That He Is a Jack of All Trades

Fashion

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In case you missed it, Pharrell Williams unveiled his highly anticipated first collection for Louis Vuitton menswear last night in Paris, on the Pont Neuf bridge. Insinuating itself throughout was a pixilated camouflage version of the house’s emblematic Damier check, a collaboration with pixel artist E.T. that peppered clothing and accessories alike (Williams dubs it “Damoflage”)—not least LV’s iconic trunks, which were transported via souped-up golf carts. Even the carpeting on the runway was given a macro check treatment.

The show, attended by the likes of Beyoncé, Zendaya, A$AP Rocky, and a very pregnant Rihanna, among others, also riffed on Williams’ affinity with jewelry—especially his signature combination of chains and pearls—and featured various takes on the theme realized on bag straps, belts, lapels, and as piping on dandy-esque dress pants.

Music, art, and culture—focal points of Williams’ multi-hyphenate oeuvre—were all evident. A live orchestra and gospel choir performed original compositions created by him, and Jay-Z performed at the after-party, while figurative works by American artist Henry Taylor were featured as micro embroideries throughout the collection.

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Jay-Z performs after the show.

LUDOVIC MARIN//Getty Images
louis vuitton runway paris fashion week menswear springsummer 2024

A model drives a golf cart on the runway.

Peter White//Getty Images

Which brings us back to the previous day at Galerie Perrotin, an imposing former hôtel particulier a stone’s throw from the Élysée Palace on the city’s rarified Avenue Matignon, where art world neighbors include White Cube and Christie’s. On display are the 62 lots comprising Williams’ Just Phriends sale by Joopiter, the auction house he founded last year. Bidding had just opened and the lots would soon be available for public viewing.

Artist Levi Pitters is sitting on the floor steaming the creases from a pair of camel-colored pants laying on one of his signature Boot Leg tables. Said table is shod in a pair of matching sneakers, which Williams wore to attend the final show of his Louis Vuitton predecessor, the late Virgil Abloh, in November 2021. While the sneakers were made by Balenciaga, this evidently didn’t work against him, and he was subsequently appointed creative director of LV men’s in February 2023.

The sale has been curated by Sarah Andelman, co-founder of the legendary Paris concept store Colette. “It’s a tribute to creativity,” she tells ELLE.com during a walk-through. “I wanted to bring together both designers Pharrell has worked with and emerging talent I found interesting that share his values of positivity and generosity and his collaborative spirit. The link between all the artists is Pharrell himself.”

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A Moonman designed by the artist KAWS for the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Courtesy JOOPITER

Conceived as an homage to Williams’ cross-disciplinary career that spans three decades, the items on display run the gamut and “emphasize the diversity of his talent,” Andelman adds. These culturally aware and collaborative pieces created both by those in Williams’ inner circle and his wider creative orbit—both historically and especially for the sale—also help place Williams in cultural context and give a real insight into his artistic milieu. “It’s like a galaxy,” says Andelman. “They are all connected to each other.”

Music, of course, comes widely represented via the aforementioned tables; an artist proof of the legendary Moonman trophy designed by KAWS for the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, where Williams performed with Daft Punk, and a Rimowa suitcase used by DJ Pedro Winter to transport his record collection. It comes filled with 23 vinyls of Williams’ productions from N.E.R.D. to Daft Punk dating back to 1993. Architect and interior designer Harry Nuriev customized one of his signature denim upholstered pieces especially for the sale: a turntable (recently exhibited at Paris’ Carpenters Workshop Gallery, daubed in neon graffiti inspired by Williams’ lyrics and track titles.

It is just this sort of customization which proved the genesis of Williams’ own fashion career. During his acceptance speech for his CFDA Fashion Icon Award in 2015, he shared that while he was growing up, he wore Vans and Chuck Taylors because “they were affordable, and, most importantly, were the perfect canvas for do-it-yourself. DIY got me through high school,” he said.

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Williams’ answer to Vivienne Westwood’s Buffalo hat.

Stephane Cardinale – Corbis//Getty Images

Artist Nathan Sawaya created a life-size 78 inch tall sculpture of Williams exclusively for the auction from 25,988 LEGO bricks. It’s dressed in the outfit he wore to the 2014 Grammys, complete with that iconic Vivienne Westwood Buffalo hat—Williams’ signature headwear of the time. Williams’ himself referenced the accessory in his Louis Vuitton show the following day with a beanie version, fashioned in pixilated “Damoflage.” His penchant for the pattern is also referenced in a military-style field jacket by designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, created bespoke for the sale from 40 teddy bears.

The auction also features a never-released pair of yellow Adidas Stan Smith sneakers from 2014, customized by Williams with drawings of daisies and “Chanel” scrawled in black marker pen along the flank—a forerunner for his Pharrell x Chanel capsule line released in 2019 and launched by Andelman at Colette. But the highest value lot, with an estimate ranging from $3 to $3.5 million, is “The Simple Things,” a sculpture created by seminal artist Takashi Murakami in 2009 to house Williams’ inaugural jewelry collection when it was exhibited at the same gallery. Inside are seven pieces designed by Williams and realized by Jacob Arabo of U.S. jeweler Jacob & Co.—gold and diamond renderings of everyday objects including a Heinz ketchup bottle and a packet of Doritos.

Williams has famously since designed diamond-encrusted sunglasses for Tiffany & Co., along with a 18k gold and diamond pendant featuring his astrological birth chart. A custom version is offered in the sale, which will be made up with the purchaser’s own star chart. The inaugural Joopiter auction in November, entitled “Son of a Pharaoh,” was comprised of jewelry from Williams’ personal collection. Notable purchasers included Kim Kardashian, Drake, and Frank Ocean. It grossed around $5 million.

A touching tribute to the late Virgil Abloh is a monogram kite which was featured in the former Louis Vuitton artistic director’s spring 2020 show. “It was important to recognize the transition,” says Andelman, who shared that the kite is being sold with a special collectible from Williams’ Vuitton debut. As a digital-first auction house and content platform, Joopiter puts a focus on storytelling, and many of the lots are presented alongside a narrative written by its creator to explain the provenance. For instance, Winter’s appendix to the Rimowa case he consigned described the first time he met Williams on the club circuit in 2001: “running after him to ask for a remix of Daft Punk.”

Williams founded Joopiter to promote inclusivity and cultural diversity absent from more traditional houses, and to resonate with a new breed of collector outside of the art establishment. Sales run online over the course of a week, which, according to Caitlin Donovan, Joopiter’s recently appointed head of global sales, helps remove barriers to entry, making it easier for buyers operating in different time zones. The addition of a gift shop component available online—featuring accessibly priced items like clothing, limited-edition books, and print sets signed by Williams—further underscores this inclusive approach, she says.

Donovan credits the idea to Andelman, following the model the latter instigated at Colette where designer labels were sold on the first floor with more affordable items available in the street-level gift shop. In fact, having the artists themselves consigning works is “unheard of in the art world,” she adds, as auctions are usually secondary market affairs. “The vision for the future is to compete with more established houses on a major scale.”

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Inside the exhibition.

Grégory Copitet

Donovan herself hails from Christie’s, where handbag sales tend to focus on more traditional luxury houses such as Hérmes. Alternatively, Joopiter’s goal is to introduce new names, namely, at the Just Phriends sale, there’s a micrometer homage to Louis Vuitton’s On The Go tote bag produced by design collective MSCHF. The accessory, which is smaller than a grain of salt, is only viewable through a microscope and created by a “stereolithographic process” commonly used for making tiny mechanical biotech structures. It takes the current trend of miniature handbags to the extreme. “Pharrell is an entrepreneur with a very clear vision,” says Andelman. “He can’t do only one thing, and I love his energy.”

Others seem to agree. Among those in attendance, Paris Fashion Week is already being called “Pharrell Williams Week”—and that’s before he stages an eight-day ’50s-themed pop-up diner celebrating the 20th anniversary of his other fashion labels, Billionaire Boys Club and its Ice Cream offshoot, plus a pop-up café at The Broken Arm to promote his new Humanrace collaboration with Adidas Samba sneakers. It’s been a long road for Williams, and, apparently, it’s just the beginning.

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