1. Two weeks ago, LVMH welcomed Pharrell as the creative director of menswear for its flagship brand, Louis Vuitton.
2. Louis Vuitton’s former artistic director of menswear, Virgil Abloh, has described his own approach as, “One big art project, just a canvas to show that fashion should have a brand which has someone behind it who cares about different contexts.”
3. Abloh’s blend of skills and experiences included working as a DJ, designer, and artist who owned his own independent luxury label, Off-White and was recognized as an LVMH Prize finalist in 2015; Pharrell brings a similar working background as a music producer, recording artist, and owner of Human Made with Nigo, and Billionaire Boys Club (which owns Ice Cream)—amongst many other projects. Pharrell also popularized Bathing Ape and the ensuing popular (and prestigious) camo sweaters in the 2000s—a spiritual predecessor to t-shirts with numbers on the back.
4. For Louis Vuitton, Pharrell presents a unique skillset (he’ll have no problem with the pressure to make something great that delivers sales results), reliability (he’s already worked with them in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008), and a working background that elaborates on the change that Virgil Abloh had started with modernizing the LV brand; for Pharrell, it’s a rare opportunity to even further elevate his legacy with brand association and cash (Eugene Rabkin has estimated the contract pays $25 million per year, at a three-year term, with sales bonuses).
5. While this change could be longer term, it also buys Louis Vuitton enough time to explore other pilot projects with designers (Telfar Clemens, Martine Rose, and Grace Wales Bonner) and cultural figures (A$AP Rocky, Tyler, the Creator) and validate its strategy in diversifying out of luxury and into the premium market.
P.S., I wrote this in a shortened 5 sentence summary because it’s a fascinating shift that I’m two weeks late on writing. Some links I’ve been browsing:
- SZ Podcast Episode 33: The Meaning of Pharrell at Louis Vuitton with Amy Odell
- Pharrell Threads the Needle
- Pharrell Is One of Hip-Hop’s Most Talented Creatives. But Did LVMH Miss the Point?
- Pharrell for Louis Vuitton and the Celebrification of Everything
- The Celebrification of Beauty & Fashion with Journalist Amy ODell
- Louis Vuitton, Pharrell Williams and the loss of fashion magic
P.P.S., Some things I didn’t get to include in this 5 sentences that my brain is still digesting:
- Louis Vuitton believes that the job description of creative director is expanding far beyond the discipline of fashion as a craft. (Jon Caramanica describes, “The role of a contemporary creative director is something more akin to zeitgeist interpreter.”) While being a celebrity is certainly a part of this—in building buzz, in selling more stuff, in the ability to bring in other celebrities—there’s a bigger idea here; the meaning of fashion is expanding.
- If you want a job like that, and you’re purely a fashion designer, you need to know that’s not the only skillset. That’s exactly the same thing that happened to writing and journalism; it’s not just about the craft anymore, a writer’s job description has expanded to require much more cultural, business, and branding savvy.
- LVMH is incredibly risk averse. Louis Vuitton critically—and wisely—avoided the risk of working with Ye and Yeezy, giving Virgil Abloh the job instead. It could have been in the same situation that Adidas is currently in, struggling to figure out what to do with the potential $1.3 billion loss in unsold Yeezy merchandise. I imagine pilot projects are a part of the job requirement for something as involved as creative director.