As he prepared the biggest fashion show of the year in Paris on Tuesday, musician-turned-designer Pharrell Williams told AFP he was conscious of the traumatic history behind black culture's ascent. "We wish that our culture and our people didn't have to suffer so hard in order to get us here," said Williams, who was set to make his debut as menswear director for Louis Vuitton later that day.
"It's not lost on me that a lot of people died, a lot of people lost their lives and suffered... to get us to these positions." The singer-producer is the second successive black American to take over menswear for Louis Vuitton, the world's most lucrative luxury brand -- a sign of how hip-hop culture has come to dominate global fashion. He spoke to AFP as the final preparations were being made for a celebrity-studded show on the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf. A whole stretch of the riverbank was cordoned off -- from the bridge up to the Concorde plaza -- ahead of the late-night catwalk event. "I think these corporations are waking up, slowly but surely, I think they're understanding that we have flavour and that we have something really interesting to offer," Williams said.
"Historically and factually, it's been whitewashed (but) while that's been tough on us historically, it's kind of made it easy when it comes to taste because we bring such a striking juxtaposition. "It's striking when you see LeBron James wearing something, when you hear Jay-Z's lyrics, when you see and hear Beyonce, the energy and voice."
Williams, 50, also spoke about his predecessor Virgil Abloh, a former Kanye West sidekick who breathed new life into Louis Vuitton with his hip-hop-infused style, but died tragically young from cancer in 2021. "I collaborated with him on a couple of things," said Williams. "Spiritually, his energy is very much still here."
Guests received their elaborate invitations on Monday -- a sort of mini-stained glass window featuring a sunset over the Pont Neuf that suggests yellow will be a dominant colour, in keeping with the singer's "Happy" vibes. Many labels have moved away from the big-name designers of the past like Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld, preferring more discreet professionals. But Louis Vuitton, which made more than 20 billion euros ($22 billion) in revenue last year, is going the other way, putting a full-blown celebrity in charge.
It follows its last show in January when a performance by Spanish pop superstar Rosalia was almost more of a focus than the clothes on the runway. It is "consistent with LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault's idea that Louis Vuitton does not sell handbags but sells culture", said bank HSBC in a briefing note. Williams has long been a red carpet sensation, known for daring outfits that go far beyond the usual hip-hop stylings, and a string of collaborations with Chanel, Moncler and Tiffany -- as well as Louis Vuitton.
"Pharrell has always been ahead of clothing trends, in terms of music as well... it will be interesting to see how he uses his flair for innovative artistic projects," said Pierre Alexandre M'Pele, editor of GQ France.(AFP)