Louis Vuitton has found its next creative director. Pharrell Williams, a longtime supporter and friend to the late Virgil Abloh, is stepping in.
It’s been more than a year since the untimely passing of designer Virgil Abloh at age 41. Abloh helmed Off White and led the creative direction for menswear at Louis Vuitton, among other projects.
Abloh left big shoes to fill — he was a champion for innovative design, sustainability, and equity — and leveraged his influence in myriad ways. Can Pharrell Williams fill those shoes?
The label confirmed earlier today that the Grammy-award-winning Williams (his 2013 song Happy was reportedly the most-played song of the decade) will take up the helm at the leading luxury label. Williams was a longtime friend of Abloh’s.
“I am glad to welcome Pharrell back home, after our collaborations in 2004 and 2008 for Louis Vuitton, as our new Men’s Creative Director. His creative vision beyond fashion will undoubtedly lead Louis Vuitton towards a new and very exciting chapter,” Pietro Beccari, Louis Vuitton’s Chairman and CEO said in a statement shared to Instagram.
The label says his first collection for Louis Vuitton will be revealed next June during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris.
Louis Vuitton says Williams is “a visionary” whose creative universes expand from music to art, and to fashion, establishing himself as “a cultural global icon” over the past twenty years. “The way in which he breaks boundaries across the various worlds he explores, aligns with Louis Vuitton’s status as a Cultural Maison, reinforcing its values of innovation, pioneer spirit, and entrepreneurship,” the label said.
Louis Vuitton went without a permanent creative or artistic director all of last year; it presented a series of tributes to Abloh instead, and additional collections designed by the menswear design team. It also worked with KidSuper founder Colm Dillane as a guest director to present the label’s Fall/Winter 2023 collection at Paris Fashion Week last month.
But according to sources, Williams would take up where Abloh left off as the label’s first permanent head of menswear. Williams is behind a number of projects, chiefly the Billionaire Boys Club, Ice Cream, and Humanrace. Like Abloh, he’s had a strong focus on streetwear. But he’s also worked with luxury labels including Chanel where he both designed a collection and served as the label’s first male ambassador.
He also made headlines when spotted wearing custom Tiffany & Co. sunglasses last summer. He’s reportedly developing a collection for the jewelry label, which is also an LVMH label.
Williams’ Humanrace label has gained attention in recent years for its sustainability commitments as well as its gender-non-conforming designs, and its spotlight on DEI initiatives.
In late 2021, the designer partnered with Adidas on a shoe honoring Indigenous Americans.
Taking its name from the Dakota tribe’s word for barefoot, the Sičhona shoe’s name means “connecting to the earth.” For Williams and Adidas, that was a guiding ethos. The campaign also highlighted Dakota tribe members.
Adidas says the Sičhona shoes are designed to capture the feeling of being connected to the earth beneath you, built for everyday wear, and “poignantly captures the essence of the elements stripped down to their purest form.” The shoe was made with the Adidas Primeknit technology, the shoe blends sustainable design and performance. By knitting the shoe’s upper in one piece, it requires fewer materials and produces less waste than shoes where several pieces are stitched together.
The shoes, like Williams’ Humanrace sustainable luxury skincare brand, broke ground in doing away with gender norms. “I look at luxury in a totally different way. It has to look beautiful, be made beautiful, but also be useful,” he told GQ in 2021.
“When you buy something, these things should stay with you. Everybody’s making way more considered purchases these days than they ever have before—it’s mindful consumption, which is super important. Prioritizing yourself to begin with, that’s important. That’s your well-being. That’s the ultimate luxury: looking after yourself, looking after others, and just being considerate of the environment. That’s what we want to do with Humanrace. We want to bring convenience and design and consideration, and we want to bring conditioning.”
By “conditioning” Williams said he means that the human condition is a “very interesting thing.”
“From the way that we work out our bodies, to the way that we work out together as a society—or we don’t work out as a society. Look at the wars we have going on actively right now in the world. Look at all the travesties that are happening. Look at the incredible, really contagious divisiveness that’s going on in our nation right now. Look at the pandemic going on around the world. That is the human condition,” Williams says. “You need to ask yourself, what can you do within yourself to contribute to change? To contribute to the elevation? That’s the human condition.”
While consumerism can seem counterintuitive to Williams’ concerns for society and the planet, he says the opposite can also be true. “‘[I]t’s about bringing convenience and creativity and considering the human condition. Not just the individual wearing [the shoes], but the rest of the world around them as well.”
The shoes also helped to fund a ten-kilowatt solar project, powering a community center and providing an education platform for the youth at Standing Rock.
The campaign offered a glimpse into Williams’ process and his commitments that may transfer well to Louis Vuitton; Abloh brought the label its first sustainability logo and a number of projects aimed at lifting up communities of color. Williams is mission-aligned there.
“I’m still a student. I’m still developing,” he told GQ. “I’m inspired by the influx of all the information that I have to study. My mind is exploding. But I’m learning so much, and I’m so excited by it. It comes out in my music, it comes out in any design that I’m doing — it’s food. Never stop learning.”
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