‘You are here witnessing history.’ So said Jay-Z in a musical performance which closed Pharrell Williams’ first menswear show for Louis Vuitton, a mega-watt spectacle which heralded the multi-hyphenate musician’s arrival on the Paris fashion scene.
Asked to meet promptly at 8.30pm on the bank of the River Seine, guests were transported by boat to Paris’ Pont Neuf – the city’s oldest standing bridge, constructed in the 16th century and once known as its historic centre. It is also just steps from the Louis Vuitton studio, where Williams has been working on the collection since his appointment.
As the sun set and guests took their seats beside the runway – the blockbuster guest list included Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Rihanna, A$AP Rocky, Zendaya and Kim Kardashian – the bridge was illuminated and the show began to a live orchestral accompaniment.
Pharrell Williams debuts Louis Vuitton menswear in Paris
Using the house’s signature ‘Damier’ check as a starting point, Williams riffed on the historic pattern, transforming it into a pixelated camo across workwear-inspired garments, denim and in the intarsia of knitwear. He titled it ‘the Damouflage’, noting he ‘wanted to make a print that makes people say, “OK, that’s P. And that’s Damier”.’ Another play on the motif came in 8-bit style graphics, created in collaboration with American pixel artist ET Artist.
Williams said he was inspired by a metaphorical line between Virginia, USA, where he was born and grew up, and Paris. Memories of his childhood at Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach inspired elements of American varsity wear, like a collegiate style jacket emblazoned with ‘LV Lovers’ – a reference to his home state’s slogan, ‘Virginia is for lovers’.
He also venerated the trunk, the starting point of the house of Louis Vuitton. In one memorable moment, a stack of monogrammed trunks was driven along the runway in the back of a military-style buggy. Another version was imagined in copper, a nod, the house said, to the metal’s ‘healing element essential to all living organisms, known to transform in the light of the sun’.
New versions of the Louis Vuitton ‘Speedy’ handbag were Williams’ most ubiquitous accessory, chosen for the way it evokes ‘the hustle mentality of Canal Street on Lower Manhattan’ (a knowing wink to the street’s reputation for fake luxury handbags). Here, the Speedy’s structured shape was transformed using soft leather; Williams said he wanted to bag to reflect real-life needs, collapsing and draping to the wearer’s body.
Louis Vuitton has long been synonymous with artistic collaboration – a recent exhibition, ‘LV Dream’, held next door to the house’s headquarters, showed the breadth of its various creative directors’ collaborations with artists (from Jeff Koons to Yayoi Kusama). Williams chose Los Angeles-based artist Henry Taylor, best known for figurative paintings of the Black community (he exhibited at Hauser & Wirth Somerset in 2021), his works appearing here as embroidery on tailoring, denim and accessories.
‘Henry is a genius man and having him involved in this is beautiful, not only because he’s talented but because that’s what this platform is for. That’s what my appointment is for,’ explained Williams of the choice. ‘We have all kinds of human beings as ambassadors but I put a particular focus on African descent because we don’t get enough of that light. That may sound like I have some sort of agenda, but I don’t have an agenda. I am the agenda.’
In his collection notes, he also paid homage to ‘the giant that came before him’, the late Virgil Abloh, who was the first Black designer at Louis Vuitton. ‘Virgil has always been a brother in spirit. Now, that is literally what we work with here,’ says Williams. ‘He left a lot of hits with the house. As far as I’m concerned, I’m collaborating with his spirit. I can tell you that Virgil and me being here has to say to kids who look like us, “Oh, I can do anything. I can be anything”.’
His own appointment in many ways echoes Abloh’s – both have a polymathic approach to design and creativity, and rose to one of fashion’s most prestigious roles despite no formal fashion training. ‘When you come from a culture that has been purposefully blocked and set in disadvantaged situations, you can’t imagine what’s even possible. But there’s this narrative that’s changing,’ says Williams.
‘So many of us are being swept up from one place and landing in fertile soil in other places, and being treated and watered and sunned like all souls should be. I can say there is an impact in that way, which is changing. It’s not enough but it’s happening. I’m very honoured to be a part of that.’
‘When I say the sun is shining on me – and it’s shining on all of us – listen, this is a French house but they went right back to America and found another Black man, and gave me the keys.’
The show culminated with Virginia-based gospel choir Voices of Fire singing ‘Joy (Unspeakable)’, a new work produced by Williams in an electrifying performance that seemed to shudder the Pont Neuf’s foundations. It spoke to Williams’ desire for uplift: ‘If I’m going to get this appointment, I’m going to use it to do two things: one, to share all my learnings as a perpetual student; and two, to share my love and appreciation.
‘I’m choosing to shine a light back on this city, these people, all my friends here, who have kept me lifted all this time.’
Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*. Having previously held roles at 10, 10 Men and AnOther magazines, he joined the team in 2022. His work has a particular focus on the moments where fashion and style intersect with other creative disciplines – among them art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and profiling the industry’s leading figures and brands.
Filicudi gallery hosts exhibition of Barber Osgerby’s designs
The tiny Italian island of Filicudi hosts an exhibition of new and archival works by Barber Osgerby, including the studio's first collaboration with a weaver
By Rosa Bertoli • Published
Brussels' Mix Hotel opens in the former headquarters of La Royale Belge
For the new Mix Hotel, Lionel Jadot completed the interior overhaul of the former headquarters of La Royale Belge in Brussels
By Emma O'Kelly • Published
Farm8 bridges art and regenerative farming in a New Delhi village
Farm8, a community farming project in New Delhi, now offers a leafy retreat for visiting artists
By Ellie Stathaki • Published