The Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, hosted something new on Tuesday evening: Pharrell Williams’s first menswear collection for the luxury brand Louis Vuitton.
As might be expected for a musician, producer and entrepreneur with more than 14 million followers on Instagram, the A-list count in the audience was high. Guests included Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Rihanna and her partner, A$AP Rocky, Zendaya, Lewis Hamilton, Kelly Rowland, Tyler, the Creator and Kim Kardashian. Some stayed after the show for the performance by Jay-Z. Williams joined him on stage for the 2003 song Frontin’.
Williams was announced as creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear in February. It was a surprise to the industry after the British designers Grace Wales Bonner and Martine Rose had been tipped to take the role. Tuesday’s show, however, explained why Williams works. This went beyond a fashion show – it was a celebrity showcase, a gig and a party, with clothes thrown in for good measure.
“It’s the convergence between entertainment and fashion, and mass appeal and luxury,” says Osman Ahmed, the fashion features director at i-D magazine, who was at the show. “I think it is going to be one of those moments when we look back and [see it] as a turning point.”
The catwalk show was a mixture of maximalist logo-fuelled design – a fuzzy, full-length coat with LV logos (the collections used both real and faux fur) or a football-style shirt with Louis Vuitton crest – smart tailoring and lots of bags. A high point – and possibly a first for fashion – was a Jeep convertible driven down the catwalk stacked with luggage. The “LV is for Lovers” slogan referred to Williams’s home state Virginia and its tagline “Virginia is for lovers”. The creative director took a bow wearing a suit in a pixelated camouflage print, which matched that worn by his four children in the front row.
Williams’ appointment – over a trained designer – has been a talking point since it was announced. But, says Chris Black, the co-host of the style and pop culture podcast How Long Gone, Williams has cultural capital. “In today’s age, the creative director job is more about vibe and vision,” he says. “I hate to say it, but I think that the product is almost the least important, or it’s at least the third or fourth most important [thing].”
Crucially, Williams has experience working with fashion brands. He has collaborated with Adidas since 2014, his own brand Billionaire Boys Club began in 2005, and Humanrace, a skincare brand, was launched in 2020. He has previously worked with Louis Vuitton. In 2008, he collaborated with the then-creative director Marc Jacobs on a pair of bestselling sunglasses called Millionaires.
The appointment follows the death of the previous creative director in 2021. Abloh, a friend of Williams, showed a new interpretation of luxury, drawing on references including pop culture, hip-hop and anti-racist activism. Williams has said he will continue his predecessor’s work, bringing Black experience to a house with its roots in what has traditionally been a very white elite.
The release of the first ad campaign – starring a pregnant Rihanna – was part of that. Speaking to the New York Times, he said “What I love about this is, it’s the biggest fashion house in the world, and that is a Black woman with child.”
The fact that Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, along with a host of Black American stars, also attended his debut show demonstrated Williams’s clout, and the influence that Black culture has on the world. Writing in the New York Times, Jon Caramanica speculated that Williams at Louis Vuitton could be “a full-throated acknowledgment of the power of Black cultural capital on a global stage”.
“This was not just a catwalk show,” agrees Ahmed. “It was the entire centre of Paris closing for a fashion show. It was Beyoncé in the middle of a world tour showing up, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky arriving halfway through.
“It’s surreal, because you realise how much power is involved in that. Cultural power, financial power, fashion power, artistic power. I think that we’re going to see aftershocks in the industry for years to come.”