The story of the Billionaire Boys Club and Icecream brands, as told by the people who built them.
Pharrell Williams - Billionaire Boys Club and Icecream, Founder and CEO
Loic Villepontoux - Head of Special Projects for Pharrell/i am OTHER
Toby Feltwell - Former Chief of Staff, A Bathing Ape, owner Potlatch Ltd.
Phillip Leeds - Billionaire Boys Club and Icecream, Brand Manager
Nino Scalia - Icecream Skate Team, Manager
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki - Former Icecream Skate Team member, Founder of Jimmy Sweatpants
Terry Kennedy - Former Icecream Skate Team leader, Founder of Fly Society
Teyana Taylor - Recording artist, friend of the brand.
Remy Banks (Children of the Night) - Recording artist, friend of the brand.
A$AP Rocky - Recording artist, friend of the brand.
Bow Wow - Recording artist, friend of the brand.
Pusha T - Recording artist, friend of the brand.
Swizz Beatz - Producer, recording artist, friend of the brand.
On the evening of June 4th 2013 the Manhattan hotspot 1 Oak was even more poppin' than usual. The celebrity guest list included Pharrell Williams, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Nas, Q Tip, Busta Rhymes, designers Nigo and Mark McNairy, photographer Terry Richardson, and the artist Kaws—all of whom made their way to the club following an exclusive dinner at Tribeca Canvas. The occasion was a celebration of the #BBCDECADE, a tenth anniversary party for the Billionaire Boys Club/Icecream brands. The V.I.P. guests capped the night off by heading to Roc The Mic studios where they recorded the song "BBC," which just happens to be track 10 on Magna Carta Holy Grail. Produced by Pharrell and Timbaland, the song opens with Nigo saying "Okumanchōja Shōnen Kurabu,” or "Billionaire Boys Club" in Japanese, before Beyoncé can be heard boasting "my motherfucker is a billionaire motherfucker" like she means it.
The brainchild of Pharrell and A Bathing Ape founder Nigo, Billionaire Boys Club/Icecream enters its second decade stronger than ever thanks to a partnership with Jay Z's Roc Apparel Group. According to WWD, “BBC and Ice Cream will do $25 million to $30 million in volume this year.” These are record numbers for a brand whose highest mark ever was $12 million. With the expansion of the Billionaire Girls Club line, the exclusive Bee Line collection, and plans to expand into accessories, fragrance, and eyewear, the brand's future is looking rather lavish.
Designer and creator Pharrell Williams has always been a tastemaker in music, fashion, and business, so it should really come as no surprise that his apparel brand is still in the game 10 years later. Billionaire Boys Club and its sister brand Icecream have exerted a profound influence on youth culture, individuality, and style for the past decade. Who could forget Pharrell’s “Frontin’” music video, which gave the world its first glimpse of what would become one of the most pervasive brands among celebs and fans alike?
With everything Pharrell does, there’s an air of uniqueness and creative freedom. From introducing the mainstream to eclectic swag, breaking into the members only skateboard world, and injecting streetwear into high fashion, Billionaire Boys Club has shattered all preset boundaries. Ten years later the movement is still growing. Of course, the only ones who can properly convey this history are those who were there making it happen from day one. So Complex decided to mark BBC/Icecream's first decade by letting them tell the story themselves.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
Pharrell Williams: “I met Nigo when I went to Japan for the first time [around 2001–2002]. When I went to his showroom, it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen, ever. I just went crazy and he let me have whatever I wanted to. So, I just admired his ability to transform his world into the interpretation of what life should be like for him. And that blew my mind, I was like 'Wow! Here’s a guy that thinks just like I do and even on a more grandeur level. And he’s putting it to practice and that’s cool.' So for me, that was an amazing thing to observe.”
Nigo said 'Well, I will design it.' At the time, I asked him if he really wanted to do that and it would be a lot of work. He was just like 'Yeah, I'll do it.'
Toby Feltwell: “I became friends with Nigo about 17 years ago, and I used to work at a record label for them and Nigo was really proud of the record label. And then we used to hang out quite a bit in London and Tokyo and discuss music. We had similar music taste, and I used to help him out on of a kinda friendly level. I left the record label in 2003, and I was scheduled to work at a law firm and Nigo kinda said before you start doing that, come up to Japan for awhile and we’ll have some fun. So, I moved out to Japan and started working on other things such as opening the Ape store in New York.”
Loic Villepontoux: “I’ve known Pharrell for almost 20 years now. His original manager was Rob Walker, who I was friends with through just working in music business. Rob was one of my close friends and we always talked about how we should find a way to work together at some point. As Rob’s management company started to grow, he brought me on to work with Kelis and that was in 2000. Since then, I’ve been working with Pharrell and Rob on all their music stuff. I was running the label at Star Trak for a few years. We went to Japan the first time in 2001, and that’s the first time we met Nigo. I had a good relationship with him and his team so when we finally started talking about the clothing, we all decided that I should start focusing on the clothing and thats pretty much how it happened.”
Phillip Leeds: “I actually started working with Pharrell in 2001. I was Kelis’ tour manager, then N.E.R.D. and Pharrell's tour manager after that. When Pharrell wasn't touring, I found employment elsewhere. When we started the Boys Club we weren't on the road. Loic was the point person for Billionaire Boys Club in America and we were really working out of the basement of Loic’s mom’s store in Soho. I just offered to fulfill web orders and wholesale orders and just sort of started working there because I needed employment and as we grew, we opened our own showroom and our offices in New York and I just started doing the sales and the press and PR stuff as the company grew.”
Toby Feltwell: "Nigo and I met Pharrell. Nigo used to have a recording studio and it was Pharrell’s first time being in Tokyo and he needed to record something, I forgot what it was for, I think it was for a video game. For some reason, there was a connection with someone who worked on the music side for Pharrell and he ended up using our studio. We met awhile after that and had dinner. They already had plans to do Billionaire Boys Club. They had the name they just didn’t have a logo. When Pharrell saw what Nigo was doing, he soon realized they were on the same page and that Nigo could be interested in helping out on the brand. Nigo said 'Well I will design it.' At the time, I asked him if he really wanted to do that and it would be a lot of work. He was just like 'Yeah, I'll do it.'”
Nino Scalia: “I first met Pharrell when i worked at Zoo York around 2000. A friend of mine who ultimately ended up working with him, she was working for Russell Simmons at the time, called me was like 'Hey there’s this music producer named Pharrell, he’s been around our offices a lot he's about to start working with some really big artists. You need to send us some clothes.'”
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: “I was introduced to Pharrell via a really good friend of mine, Nino Scalia, he was the Icecream Team manager. Nino and Pharrell had worked together for a couple ad campaigns at Zoo York.”
Terry Kennedy: “I got into skateboarding when I was 15 and met Pharrell through Bam when I was on the Bam show.”
PHARRELL AND NIGO MAKE MOVES
Pharrell Williams: “[The Billionaire Boys Club] was born in Japan, and the people who belong in this club are the people who are like minded, who know that education is one of the greatest gifts to life, and learning things and continuing to discover and explore is one of the greatest experiences we can ever have as humans. So, it’s anyone who believes that, and lives their life to the fullest. It doesn’t mean you have to go on a safari to Africa or a journey to the moon, it just means that you have to have the willingness to do what makes you happy and to continue explore and enjoy the present.”
Loic Villepontoux: “Pharrell wanted to make sure that people didn't misread the name ‘Billionaire Boys Club.’ Basically the brand is to inspire people to get into something they feel is important to their life but it has nothing to do with money. A lot of people were very confused at the beginning because the prices were expensive but that wasn't necessarily because we wanted to have it very expensive. It was because we were manufacturing the clothes in Japan; 100% of the line was made in Japan and that process is very expensive. I think it was important to have that motto—"wealth is of the heart and mind, not the pocket"—in place so it can help with the press when people asked him about it. It was simple to explain it.”
Nigo is a sage, an unstoppable force that will always continue to inspire.
Toby Feltwell: “Pharrell had a pretty clear vision for what he wanted his brand to be. He talked to a bunch of graphic designers about a logo. That’s one of the best features of a brand. With that you can almost visualize and tell what the brand will be about it. He really wasn’t able to nail what he wanted to get done. I kind of took the vision, alongside of Nigo, and we knew what he was looking for. I pretty much described what they were looking for and it gave me no doubt. Pharrell was at some club at the time. So I ran down to the club and found him in the DJ booth and gave him the logo, and it was pretty much done. That was pretty much a days worth of work, from deciding that we wanted to help Pharrell alongside of his brand.”
Loic Villepontoux: “He came to the club and showed us four of our logos that we still use to this day and that was the spaceman in the Billionaire Boys Club logo. Pharrell lost it. He loved the artwork and before leaving Japan, either that next morning or the morning after they already had everything on paper, the full line design.”
Pharrell Willams: “Nigo is a sage, an unstoppable force that will always continue to inspire.”
Loic Villepontoux: “[Pharrell] always finds a good person to team up with to help [his projects] become successful. He’s also a great collaborator, he understands the meaning of collaboration and in this case, teaming up with Nigo allowed him to have access of credibility. He started a brand with a partner who already had a successful brand that was already almost 10 years old. I think that really helped. Pharrell also already had a good relationship with the fashion world on his own. So I think when the two combined, people were very accepting to the fact that he was launching his own clothing. It made sense. Everyone was really supportive.”
Pharrell is not scared to make a left turn. He's not scared to make a difference.
Phillip Leeds: “Pharrell is in the design room, even if it's just about a stitch on a pocket or whatever. He's very involved and very passionate. It’s not just something to make money with. I mean from the time we started our original business, it was all about making things he couldn't find. He wanted to do what it is in his head. He’s very pure to the aesthetic. He’s the same way about everything; he’s the same way with music.”
Nino Scalia: “Pharrell and Nigo definitely had their ideas of what they wanted but if it didn't work for a skateboarder, we would let them know and they would definitely [tell the design team] like, “You guys gotta change the sole.”
Terry Kennedy: “He’s very smart, he always knows what's going on. That’s the thing I love about Pharrell, he stays in the know. That’s why he keeps giving hit new stuff. He knows how to stay current and that’s dope.”
Loic Villepontoux: “Pharrell always come up with themes for the seasons then everyone on the design team starts researching and doing mood boards. When the design office was in Japan, we would go to Japan about four times out the year to see samples, make comments, and just really work with the designer production team to get the line where Pharrell and Nigo were comfortable with.
Phillip Leeds: “[Pharrell] is not scared to make a left turn. He's not scared to make a difference.”
Toby Feltwell: “Pharrell had a pretty clear vision for what he wanted his brand to be. He talked to a bunch of graphic designers about a logo. That’s one of the best features of a brand. With that you can almost visualize and tell what the brand will be about it. He really wasn’t able to nail what he wanted to get done. I kind of took the vision, alongside of Nigo, and we knew what he was looking for. I pretty much described what they were looking for and it gave me no doubt. Pharrell was at some club at the time. So I ran down to the club and found him in the DJ booth and gave him the logo, and it was pretty much done. That was pretty much a day's worth of work, from deciding that we wanted to help Pharrell alongside of his brand.”
NO FRONTIN’: MUSIC VIDEO MARKETING 101
Phillip Leeds: “We definitely started with Pharrell wanting to make clothing that he wanted to wear and see in the marketplace and then we made some stuff that appeared in the ‘Frontin’' video. T-shirts and polos; then people started asking about it. It was a fairly small first season, the first collection. We sold it to a showroom, we got orders for it and then we set up an e-commerce site and as soon as we set it live, we got like a thousand orders. It was a little after the ‘Frontin’’ video. It was sort of like the goods showed up from Japan for all the wholesale orders and for our the webstore and it was a little overwhelming because you know we were working out of the basement store in Soho. It was hundreds of boxes of goods and [when] we go on the website and we got a thousand orders or whatever and we didn't have any experience in what we were about to endeavor. It was a little overwhelming just the two of us. We had a few people and some friends come help here and there.”
That night we saw logos for the brand…they were so excited that they couldn't even wait until the next day, they wanted to show it to us at the club.
Pharrell Williams: "Yeah, that [‘Frontin’ video debut] was calculated. Not because, we were going to launch the brand, but because I just wanted to see that. I wanted to present everybody with my world, because at that time, I was making Billionaire Boys Club stuff for myself. It was calculated in the sense that I knew what I wanted to see in my video, but not in the sense of ‘Oh we’re about to sell this many T-shirts.' We just knew I wanted my shit to look like this.”
Nino Scalia: “Yeah, at the time, there wasn't Instagram or Twitter, so if you were gonna do it, you had to do it like that.”
Loic Villepontoux: “As soon as Pharrell saw the designs on paper, he started asking for clothes. The quickest thing Nigo could make was sneakers and sweatshirts. As soon as Pharrell got it he started wearing them. So it was the perfect timing as one of the major things we were doing was the ‘Frontin’’ video. Nigo came from Japan and went to Miami and brought like a bunch of T-shirts and sweatshirts so it was just perfect timing. There was definitely a demand, because it wasn’t available. It was the first time anyone ever saw it on that level, when the video came out. When we did the Clones release party that August, we gave a T-shirt to everyone who came to the party and that’s when people first started wearing the product outside of Pharrell.”
Nino Scalia: "I remember him pitching [Icecream] to us at Zoo York and seriously looking at him like “I think this guy is crazy. I don’t get this.” Over time he did prove everyone wrong. Picture this music producer sitting in this company and you’re meeting with him and he’s dripping in jewelry and he goes, 'Look, I got this idea for this clothing line. It’s called Icecream and it has this all-over print!'”
Loic Villepontoux: “Pharrell was inspired by Wu-Tang. Icecream was diamonds and money.”
Nino Scalia: “I think Billionaire Boys Club [is for the] kid who’s super into being the swaggy kid or the fashionable kid; that’s your foundation, that’s based in music and thats just what you take to. Whereas with Icecream, it’s more about you’re the skate kid that pays attention to fashion. That’s the two clear dividing line.”
COUNTDOWN TO LAUNCH
Pharrell Williams: “What it is now, super un...believable: That the general, would ever take time out of his crazy and comprehensive schedule and do something with me and for me. I’m still appreciative, and though he’s focusing on Human Made and something you guys will hear about really soon (which will prove why he is the General), his feeling and likeness, will always be a part of the DNA of what we’re doing.”
Loic Villepontoux: “My favorite moment, really, is while we were in Japan that one trip and Nigo agreed to work with Pharrell and that night we saw logos for the brand. That’s what started it all. Being that the short conversation with Pharrell and the description of what it meant to him, allowed them to create something within a few hours and they were so excited that they couldn't even wait until the next day, they wanted to show it to us at the club. The logo was amazing.”