February 15, 2023
Louis Vuitton is in talks to hire music producer and streetwear entrepreneur Pharrell Williams to be its next men’s head designer, according to people familiar with the matter, reports The Wall Street Journal.
If appointed, Williams, 49, would assume the role previously held by Virgil Abloh, who died in November 2021. Abloh was the first Black American to be appointed to a head design position at a European luxury fashion house. Williams, a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who rose to prominence in the late 1990s as a part of hip-hop production duo The Neptunes, could be the second.
The talks come as Louis Vuitton, the crown jewel of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, looks to extend a run of growth emerging from the pandemic. That growth has helped propel LVMH to the largest stock-market valuation in Europe—and turned Bernard Arnault, the conglomerate’s chairman and CEO, into the world’s richest person, recently outdistancing Elon Musk.
While Abloh’s profile exploded over the course of his three years at Vuitton—ultimately making him one of the most recognizable fashion designers in the world—Williams would assume the position as a genuine celebrity already. He already has been a judge on The Voice, voiced a character in Sing 2; and racked up two Oscar nominations, 13 Grammy Award wins, and a bevy of number-one singles.
In one of his first forays in fashion in the early 2000s, well into his career as a pop megaproducer, Williams paired with Japanese fashion icon Nigo, who is now the creative director of Kenzo, another brand under the LVMH umbrella, to found the pioneering streetwear label Billionaire Boys Club as well as a skateboarding-inspired shoe brand, Ice Cream.
Williams’s earlier forays were lavish and logo-mad, defined by full-zip hoodies splayed with neon-colored dollar-sign prints, and jewel-tone shoes. Product drops would draw crowds of cool-hunting teens and 20-somethings to the brand’s shops in New York and Japan.
Three years later, in what retrospectively looks like a sign of things to come, Williams collaborated with Louis Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs on a series of jewelry designs and the blocky aviator-esque “Millionaire” sunglasses.
“Vuitton for me is a school,” said Williams in a 2008 interview, discussing his collaboration with Jacobs. “I’ve just learned a lot being here.” Today, pairs of those sunglasses continue to sell for over $1,000 on resale sites like Grailed.
Further collaborations followed with fashion heavyweights like Diesel, Chanel, and Moncler. Williams has also worked with Adidas for nearly a decade on a co-branded line of clothes and shoes, including the sock-esque NMD Hu sneakers with New Age-y words like “Breathe,” “Clouds” and “Body” stitched along the front.
Yet his largest impact in the fashion world is likely his own forward-looking choices in attire, even if he’s felt reticent about that role in the past. “It embarrasses me a bit to be a figure in fashion,” he told the Journal in 2014.
In 2015 he was awarded the Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, appearing on stage to receive the award in a blue leather jacket and worn-in jeans. “No one has better style than the everyday American people,” he said during a brief speech. “Why? Because they’re the real thing and they live it everyday. I could never be as cool as them, but I’m happy to take notes.”
Most recently, Williams has been the embodiment of this moment’s boundary-free mixing of streetwear and luxury, wearing both $240 putty-print hoodies from Cactus Plant Flea Market, run by his former assistant Cynthia Lu, and diamond-encrusted Tiffany & Co. sunglasses. (Tiffany & Co. is another LVMH brand.)
Williams and Abloh also had a longstanding relationship and shared admiration for each other. In a 2017 interview with the Journal, Abloh said Williams was one of his five ideal dinner companions. When Abloh died, Mr. Williams tweeted out “My heart is broken Virgil you were a kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius.” He sat in the front row at a Louis Vuitton show in Miami days after Abloh’s death.
Williams would arrive at a highflying time for Louis Vuitton. It took the fashion house 164 years to become the luxury industry’s first $10 billion brand back in 2018, but it doubled that figure in four years. Analysts say that $20 billion in revenue makes it the biggest luxury brand in the world.
Still, there are new economic headwinds for the company and the industry. Many analysts are expecting an economic softening in key markets, including the United States and Europe. It is also a period of change at Louis Vuitton, itself: This month, Chief Executive Michael Burke and Executive Vice President Delphine Arnault, Arnault’s daughter, handed off leadership of the brand. Taking over Louis Vuitton is Italian executive Pietro Beccari, the outgoing boss at Dior.
Research contact: @WSJ