For Pharrell Williams and his celebrity friends’ debut show for Louis Vuitton, Paris became their playground, bridging the gap between fashion, music and money-making publicity.
Williams is the first musician in charge of designing clothes for a major luxury brand with revenues of 20 billion euros ($22 billion) last year.
He’s worked in fashion houses in the past, but the bosses at Louis Vuitton are also apparently interested in the guest list he can put together. He didn’t have Beyoncé, Rihanna, LeBron James, Lewis Hamilton, et cetera in the front row on Tuesday night.
“We tried to talk to different clients,” Louis Vuitton boss Pietro Robecari told AFP ahead of the start.
“With the echoes in the media tonight, people who’ve never heard of Vuitton … maybe they’ll push open the door of one of the stores.”
Big shows are nothing new – brands have spent millions on lavish set designs and celebrity guests from the 1990s and beyond.
But Williams took it to the next level with a new uptempo song, “JOY (Unspeakable)” by an all-gospel choir, and ended the night with a concert by Jay-Z, who also Singing in concert, all at the Pont Neuf over the Seine.
“It’s a very landmark moment. You rarely predict big moments in fashion, but when you have a combination of a cultural force like Pharrell and a cultural brand like Louis Vuitton, you know something interesting.” Things will happen,” Imran Amed, founder of the Business of fashion news website, told AFP.
“a breath of fresh air”
Trying to find out what people actually think about these clothes is tricky.
Fashion sites that rely heavily on brand advertising rarely question design choices anymore.
But Williams played it safe largely, relying heavily on Louis Vuitton’s classic Damier check pattern, but also playing with some bold new primary colours.
There’s a lot of pixelated look and some camouflage vibes that Williams nicknamed “damoflage”.
“By revisiting the accessories and leather goods that have made LV so successful, Pharrell Williams has shown that he understands the challenges and the rules facing this iconic brand,” GQ France editor Pierre Alexandre M’Pele told AFP.
Some things feel fresh. While gender mixing is common in fashion, it remains rare among major labels with separate artistic directors for menswear and womenswear.
“Pharrell Williams broke the wind for Louis Vuitton by showing women in his first collection, before the male and female models were separated,” says M’Pele.
There have been whispers among fashionistas that there is not a more dedicated designer in the top job.
But Beccari was clear that he needed someone “with extra capabilities” to complement womenswear director Nicolas Ghesquière, a “traditional couturier”.
“It’s a perfect combination for a brand that has 450 stores in 72 countries and not only sells products but also 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,” says Beccari.
Williams seemed to be taking the job so seriously that he moved his family to Paris and set up a music studio at Louis Vuitton headquarters to balance his career.
“Ninety percent of his next album will be written in Paris in front of his window, facing the Samaritans,” says Beccari.