Pharrell Williams' appointment as Creative Director of Louis Vuitton demonstrates "The influence of Hip-Hop in Defining Contemporary Fashion" - Kieran Southern
by Rapjoint Lagos
If ever there was a man to disprove the saying that "nice guys finish last", it is Pharrell Williams. A music industry producer whose hits include Happy, Get Lucky and Drop It Like It's Hot, the 49-year-old rapper is also a sought-after fashion designer who has turned his hand to everything from sunglasses to sculpture. He has won 13 Grammys, earned two Oscar nominations and voiced a character in the animated film Sing 2, all the while still finding the time to teach empathy classes online, work with a textile company called Bionic Yarn that makes denim from plastic found in the sea, and develop a technology-focused music curriculum for under-resourced schools.
And yet this week, his ever-expanding CV received another line when it was announced that Williams would replace his late friend Virgil Abloh as creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, The post is one of the most high-profile in the industry and according to one expert is evidence of "the ongoing influence of hip-hop in defining contemporary fashion". "It's huge," said Dr Aisha Durham, a professor of communication at the University of South Florida who specializes in hip-hop and cultural studies. "Pharrell gets to influence the creative direction of a major fashion house."
While Williams has long been known for sporting eye-catching looks that inhabit fashion's cutting edge- first coming to people's attention for wearing oversized hats - what is less known is his wide-ranging entrepreneurial empire. Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 1973 to a teacher mother and handyman father, Williams has concentrated much of his focus on projects in his home state. In 2019 he brought the Something in the Water music festival there, before going on to establish private schools for low-income students in Virginia. He is also involved in plans to bring a surf park to Virginia Beach and a 1 million square-feet "Wellness Circle" which would include a medical office campus and community space.
Surfing and schools aside, it was Williams's first love, music, that launched his career. In 1992 he formed the songwriting and production duo the Neptunes alongside his childhood friend Chad Hugo. They went on to produce hits for artists including Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Britney Spears, shaping the sound of pop music in the early 2000s. In finding success Williams followed a path carved by his fellow Virginian Missy Elliott, according to Durham, who said Williams thought of himself as an outsider to "mark himself outside of the dominant tropes of black masculinity in hip-hop". She said: "Like his local contemporary Missy Elliott, I think Williams has had no choice but to create his own style in a broader cultural space where he was - and southern Virginia remains not legible as fashion-forward in hip-hop and broader black popular culture. "Yet, it has been in this in-between space where his original style has impacted the world.
From this "in-between space" Williams's other ventures have included the launch of a social media company, I Am Other, in 2012, the creative directorship of the YouTube channel "KarmaloopTV", a skincare brand called
"Human race" and in 2009 the unveiling of a. sculpture for Art Basel with the Japanese artist "Takashi Murakami". He also teaches classes on empathy for customers willing to sign up for the Master Class website's $15 monthly fee.
"I think empathy is the most important thing," he says in his class. "It's not a natural thing to just literally think of others all the time. It's just not. You constantly have to challenge yourself to be a little bit more open to what other people are going through."
While celebrity net worth is notoriously difficult to calculate, Forbes has consistently ranked Williams among the richest musicians. In 2017 the magazine included him on a list of the wealthiest rappers of the decade, with estimated earnings of $165.5 million. That number has almost certainly swelled in the years since. Jason Boyarski, a leading music business lawyer and the co-founder and managing partner of Boyarski Fritz LLP, said social media has given celebrities such as Williams a means of capitalizing on their vast fanbases. "A lot of this comes down to culture," said Boyarski. "Some artists are so influential and can move the needle on social media through having hundreds of millions of followers. And those followers equate to eyeballs on the culture. “Pre-social media, famous musicians were able to have their hands in lots of different things, but they wouldn't necessarily be watched in real time." Williams, Boyarski said, has offered a "blueprint" for other artists to follow.
Yet while becoming one of the most influential figures in popular culture, he has sought to keep a low profile in his private life .He married his long-term partner, the fashion designer Helen Lasichanh, in 2013, and the couple have four children. In 2021, however, his family was thrust into the spotlight as Donovon Lynch, his 25-year-old cousin, was shot and killed by the police. In December the city of Virginia Beach police said it would pay a $3 million settlement to Lynch's family. Though the officer was not charged with a crime, officials said the shooting could have been avoided. Williams had called for a federal investigation into the killing. According to Durham the incident led to Williams addressing social justice issues more explicitly, and she said she would not rule out a future career in politics for the star. “Pharrell can do anything he sets his mind to. He already sees himself as the other, as an alien and outside of the 'ordinary' which allows him to imagine what could be possible. “If we are talking about the next frontier for Pharrell, I think it's endless.”
Culled from Sunday Times of London, 19th February, 2023