Why Pharrell Williams is the Perfect Successor to Virgil Abloh

Why Pharrell Williams is the Perfect Successor to Virgil Abloh

In Pharrell Williams’ hands, the baton previously held by Virgil Abloh is – and was always going to be – in excellent hands

The Evolution of Pharrell Williams: From Musician to Fashion Mogul

By Ranji Mangcu

In Pharrell Williams’ hands, the baton previously held by Virgil Abloh is – and was always going to be – in excellent hands.

While the world of fashion mourned the passing of Virgil Abloh, it also wondered who could possibly fill his shoes as creative director of both Louis Vuitton and Off-White.

From Martine Rose to Grace Wales Bonner, high fashion Twitter’s dream appointments flew across the aisle, until one ordinary weekday, when LVMH announced the appointment of musical artist Pharrell Williams as Abloh’s successor.

 


Although Pharrell’s artistry – from his music to his close collaboration with Chanel – has been vital to today’s marriage of Hip Hop and high fashion, response to his announcement was mixed.

Many doubted that Williams – a foreigner to Paris and, officially, to couture – had the actual chops to accept the charge as Creative Director of one of the most prestigious luxury fashion labels in the world. One globally symbolic of Parisian heritage and couture. Albeit unlikely, Pharrell’s appointment also, somehow, made all the sense in the world.


The Louis Vuittion Men's Spring-Summer 2024 show was presented to a soundtrack produced by Pharrell Williams, the debut show from the Men's Creative Director featured a myriad of vivid hues and captivating motifs, exalting the emblems of the brand.

Williams’s appointment as Creative Director of Louis Vuitton Men came at the height of a state of events affectionately termed the fashion’s “Musical Chairs”. This was the phenomenon of creative directors in fashion – a cycle of designers with varying levels of competency- being churned through major luxury labels.

Alongside our hyper-awareness of Williams’ appointment being a marketing play, intimately tied to Pharrell’s pull as a cultural fixture, he has created a huge margin for doubt. There have also been some apocalyptic concerns around Pharrell’s validity and longevity as a designer; would Williams live up to the centuries-long legacy of Louis Vuitton, and the long shadow cast by his predecessor, the late Virgil Abloh?


The validity of people’s doubts is a tricky one to argue. What has been clear from the outset is that Williams’ appointment can’t be divorced from his gravitas as a musician and a cultural fixture in that regard.

Unpacking the snobbery in arguments that his appointment undercut designers with formal design training would effectively be unpacking a landmine. What I will say instead, is that curiosities around his proficiency should never have been clouded by his lack of formal training, but directed towards how well he could articulate his own vision through the Louis Vuitton visual language and design codes. All this while honouring the transformative legacy left by Abloh.

Faced with several tall orders, Williams’ first Louis Vuitton show now has critics backpedalling via Instagram stories. Holding Abloh as a guiding light, Williams produced a sophisticated marriage of streetwear into Louis Vuitton codes.


A pixelated camouflage print fluidly transitioned into the collection’s more direct interpretations of the quintessentially LV brown leather grid.

Yet, there was so much of Williams himself in it – collarless and Nehru-collared blazers and jackets, squared off at the waist; knee-bearing shorts and skirts, charmingly oversized newsboy caps, and finished off by striking, gold lapel chains. His choice of models wearing his first collection, was also well thought of, and included Liya Kebede, Anna Ewers, Anok Yai and South Africa’s Lebo Malope.


Perhaps most admirable, is that rather than shy away from the critique most levelled against his appointment – “When did fashion become so driven by mass appeal and entertainment?” – Pharrell Williams wrote it into the show.

 


With over 1 000 people in attendance, its star-studded audience included Beyoncé, Jay Z, A$AP Rocky, Tyler, the Creator, Naomi Campbell, Kim Kardashian, and Louis Vuitton’s newest ambassadors, Zendaya and Rihanna. Models walked down the runway to music produced by Williams and a 200-person choir, before live performances by Jay Z and Pharrell himself.

 

PICTURES:  Louis Vuitton

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