Ever wondered what it looks like when the world’s first $20 billion (£15.7bn) luxury company decides to flex? Pharrell Williams did and last night on the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris he found out. After a week of teasing behind-the-scenes clips and a billboard campaign starring Rihanna and a takeout coffee, he staged his debut runway show as Louis Vuitton’s new men’s creative director. It was, needless to say, a mega-budget spectacle.
We’ll get on to the clothes but first, a quick rewind. When news broke in February that the rapper/producer/entrepreneur/youngest-looking-50-year-old had bagged menswear’s top job, there was excitement but also some cynicism, namely from fashion’s snooty old guard. “What does Pharrell know about design?” scoffed the doubters. Well, probably enough: he created eyewear and jewellery for Louis Vuitton in 2008; he produced a Chanel capsule with Karl Lagerfeld; and he’s worked with Nike, BAPE, Timberland and Adidas. Besides, as he explains: “I didn’t go to Central St Martins but, you know, I didn’t go to Juillards to study music. And I’ve been alright.”
The point is Louis Vuitton don’t need a camera-shy couturier, mumbling through a mouth full of pins. They want a showman who can harness big teams and even bigger resources to create a blockbuster.
Pharrell’s predecessor, the late great Virgil Abloh, started the French house’s pivot into cultural firebrand; Pharrell is here to supercharge it. Sorry folks, but fashion is no longer just about fashion: for better or for worse, it’s now part of the entertainment industry. Pharrell is a hit-maker, he understands the business of being Number One, and that’s what Louis Vuitton and CEO Pietro Beccari are banking on.
So what about the clothes? Well, imagine a multiverse where nerdy and sporty meets regal and pimpish. Tailoring was loose but slick, worn with shorts and big stomping boots. Naturally, the LV logo and signature checkerboard aka damier was on full display across bags, leather biker jackets and fur and denim coats; elsewhere, a pixelated camo pattern covered parkas and suits.
Trousers had a flare, nothing too swooshy but enough to make this ‘70s fan happy. There were tracksuits embellished with pearls, metallic bombers, leather football shirts, watch chain jewellery on waistcoats, and King Edward VIII-style caps. There was even a golf buggy carrying a tower of LV trunks. The looks kept on coming and while the collection might not be groundbreaking, it’s cohesive, clever and very, very desirable.
But last night was about much more than silhouettes and fabrics. It was about creating a where-were-you-when moment, and that’s where Pharrell really sealed the deal. Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, Zendaya, Lebron James, Kim Kardashian were all front row, head-bopping to a live orchestra and gospel choir singing “Joy!”
The joyous celebration ended with Pharrell jumping on stage with Jay-Z for a post-show gig (Coco Chanel never did that!) and Paris Fashion Week suddenly transformed into the Super Bowl half time. Quiet luxury is dead, long live LV.
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