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.”
THE RETAIL TAKEOVER: HONG KONG, TOKYO, NYC
Pharrell Williams: “It’s crazy to have a team to help me do it. The building is incredible to have. The personal, the human faculty… That represents all these believers and supporters. Like the army is so much more important and unbelievable. The store is like the by-product of all that great support.”
Loic Villepontoux: “When we first opened our stores it definitely felt like it reached a more serious place in our business. We opened our first flagship in Tokyo maybe eight or nine years ago. The New York store makes six years in November. The one thing similar with all the stores is that all of them have this old-school ice cream parlor style for the Icecream floor but when you go to Billionaire Boys Club, it was like you were going to space. All three stores had that in common, you felt like you were being transported.”
Terry Kennedy: “That was my first time going to Hong Kong and Tokyo. Especially for me, a kid from the inner city, it was a culture shock. On top of that, to be on a skateboard, it was huge. Overseas skateboarding is huge. I just look at my life from the beginning to me owning companies now—it’s like, skateboarding is huge.
Nino Scalia: “I think it was the business model of Bathing Ape at the time. Nigo had 24-45 Bathing Ape stores. I think it was always the goal to build a brand like that. For every person involved in clothing, it’s like your dream to have your own flagship store, preferably in New York or one of the other major metropolitan fashion centers like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Milan or Paris.”
Pharrell Williams: “The bottom floor is basically a parlor and the top floor is the surface of the moon. Very simple.”
ICONIC PRINTS & SPACE MOTIFS
Nino Scalia: “Honestly, I think it’s just the crazy mind of Pharrell Williams. Like he is a kid at the end of the day. He’s a giant kid. He will always be a kid. There’s always this youthful angle to the way he does things. I don’t know the creative recipe that brought that up by any means but it’s something that I would probably steal and make millions of dollars myself. It’s just the way his mind works. He’s like 'Let me go make the diamond and dollar print and a running dog.'"
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: "Pharrell’s creativity—fuck. I don’t know, man. It’s wild. We would have dogs on our crotch. Some of the sneakers had cigarettes and beepers on them. It was all the nutty shit that I think we were all collectively into, putting those ideas on the T-shirts and hoodies and pants."
Loic Villepontoux: “Pharrell has always been fascinated with space. He’s always been inspired by space and space exploration. Carl Sagan was a huge influence on him, and Leonard Nimoy, who we ran into recently actually, had a TV show during the '70s called In Search Of, which Pharrell was obsessed with. His first N.E.R.D. album was called In Search Of. He’s always been into outer space.”
Pharrell Williams: “We met [NASA Astronaut Leland Melvin] through the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) program. The way we found out about STEM was because we wanted to use their graphics from NASA. We basically developed a relationship and Leland reached out afterwards and said he really liked the brand and once we started using a lot of their graphics, and a lot of their photos, he wanted to take one up and he did."
Loic Villepontoux: “Our friend Leland Melvin, on his last trip to space took one of our T-shirts with him. It was pretty crazy. I was at the launch. It was an amazing experience. Pharrell says the one thing he wouldn't do is actually go into space; it makes him nervous. He just appreciates the fact that Leland would take something of his to space.”
NASA & STEM with Pharrell Williams & Leland Melvin from Illusive Media on Vimeo.
MAKING WAVES IN THE FASHION WORLD
Phillip Leeds: “André Leon-Talley wore Billionaire Boys Club during fashion week and was photographed in it. Pharrell has a close relationship with Anna Wintour and I think just her and Pharrell being friends kind of just lent us credibility. Karl Lagerfeld also wore Billionaire Boys Club jacket in Harper’s Bazaar which was major for us. There was also a little quote from Karl where he says how much he loves hip-hop and that he has an iPod with just hip-hop. I think things like that really made people think 'Oh shit, Pharrell is really doing it.' It’s not like we are just slapping some logos on some T-shirts. and that’s the other thing I think that while the core of our brand is doing logos on T-shirts and sweatshirts and stuff, we were designing full collections in Japan with alot of unusual pieces that were more geared toward editorial than actual consumer sales.
"I think it’s because we had those interesting unique pieces and our stuff was different from everyone else was doing. We were designing it in Japan with some legends in the game, we had Nigo and Sk8thing. You know Sk8thing did all the graphics and Nigo was sort of curating our fashion design and using his massive vintage archive as a reference point. Design inspiration, we had some very unique pieces like, what the fuck was that? Like sweatshirt poncho and strange prints on pants and all kinds of stuff. We would take our prints and make a full suit out of them.”
Nino Scalia: “There wasn't just [one defining moment] moment. We were just starting. It was right at the height of Pharrell’s Louis Vuitton deal, so it’s like we were automatically plugged into this world and people from that world were looking at that. I mean he had Karl Lagerfeld wearing a Billionaire Boys Club hoodie. [Pharrell] can live in so many worlds; he has a unique personality. His brand of fame stands in so many different areas, from music to fashion, people just want to be down with him. Really, it was just a matter of him doing it. There really no defining moment. It was just doing it.”
THE ICECREAM SKATE TEAM
Pharrell Williams: “It was like, 'Dude, now that I have the ability, the means to give that sort of support out in the world, I’m doing it.' I never thought twice about it. And then I’m not sure what year, but we took a break for a couple of years and then the team is back up and at it. Crazy!”
Pharrell rode for us, from taking us places we probably would have never normally gone to award shows to walking us on red carpets, the whole nine.
Nino Scalia: “The team initially was Terry Kennedy, Jacob Wilder, Kevin Booker, Cato Williams, and Jimmy Gorecki.”
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: “I've never seen another person extend themselves in a more positive way. We got a really good feel of what he did for music people, what he did for fashion people, what he was doing for us kids. As a skateboarder, that guy loans himself and accessibility and financial backing. You don’t have to do shit for nobody, but it seem like all he wanted to do is pull in and help more people.”
Pharrell Williams: “I was introduced to Terry Kennedy by Bam. Bam gave me Terry Kennedy. And Rob Dyderk was always supportive. I had the support of all the homies. I just wouldn’t put it out there. I didn’t want it to be seen like I was using them, we always had their support. If anything ever did their research, they will see TK in the Bam show. You know what I’m saying? That’s what was so fly about it. Because…I had their support. I just wasn’t using it like that. Because I didn’t want to cross collateralize like that. I wanted it to be authentic.”
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: “I also knew Terry Kennedy for a really long time, before when he started to take off. I had those two friendships and I liked the idea of skating for Icecream. I think this was like ‘04 then ran to May 2008. It was a good run.
People thought he was just some rapper trying to line his pockets off of skateboarders.
Nino Scalia: “[Pharrell] had Terry in place and asked me put the rest of the team together. He didn't want big name people, he wanted kids that represented what the idealism was, which was kids like us that grew up skating. He didn’t want like this star studded pro skate team."
Loic Villepontoux: “Billionaire Boys Club was not really aimed to be a skateboard brand. Really, Icecream was more skateboard inspired. The only way to be successful at it was to get together this skate team.”
Terry Kennedy: "[Through Icecream] I actually had my own sneaker, I wanna say in like ‘07 or ‘08. It was called the Board Flip 1 and the Board Flip 2, that was the name of the shoe. I ended up having a shoe for ‘em."
Nino Scalia: “We were such a family. Everyone rode for each other really hard. Pharrell rode for us, from taking us places we probably would have never normally gone to award shows to walking us on red carpets, the whole nine. The other side of it was, we would have Pharrell hang out with us at skate parks. It really was [a family]. Just showing that kind of human side to what it was because I think that in the beginning, that message was very convoluted. People thought he was just some rapper trying to line his pockets off of skateboarders."
Team Ice Cream Vol.1 (Bonus Footage) from Aarin Mesplie on Vimeo.
BREAKING INTO THE SKATE MARKET
Nino Scalia: “In Japan Pharrell is welcomed with open arms because of of Nigo, but I think the only challenge was the streetwear pushback. In America he had this burgeoning movement with brands like The Hundreds, Crooks and Castles, and all these kids. A lot of those people felt some type of way because of the fact like to them they're like 'We’re over here grindin’ it out, building our brand, fighting to get into these little boutiques and you link up with Nigo because you're famous and you come in at the top of the game.' Once they learned it was anti-placement and not about having people in the public eye wearing their stuff and more about their own little world, [they got it]. Now they’re chasing rappers and celebrities to take the shirts on their back. Ultimately it's like, Pharrell wins.”
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: “It was definitely, of all the things, I think that was probably the hardest thing for Billionaire Boys Club and Icecream to break into. Skateboarding is a very ‘me me me’ community where they don’t like to let a lot of outsiders in. That took a lot of hard work from us on the skate team to be like 'Yo, I know what you guys may think it’s just this guy trying to buy his way into skateboarding,' but like the overall message and story behind our skateboarding department was our skateboarding. That took some time for people to open their eyes up and really understand. We put such a legitimate plan together going into it and we stuck to it as closely as possible. It’s a tough crowd."
Loic Villepontoux: "[The skateboard world] is definitely a difficult area to get into. Jay Z gave Pharrell the name Skateboard P—he never named himself. Skateboarding as a culture allowed him to look at everything growing up. It’s a different style and unique way of thinking, but it is a hard community to get into because they aren’t too accepting of outsiders.”
Nino Scalia: “People couldn't wrap their heads around it because these kids on skateboards are wearing $100 T-shirts and $300 sneakers and on top of that, no one wanted Pharrell to look bad because he fought so hard for us.”
I got called ‘Oreo’ as a kid. Because I was black but I hung with white boys and skated.
Terry Kennedy: “At that time period and even now, skateboarding was starting to take that turn where more minorities were getting into the sport. As I started to come around the corner, more people started to think ‘OK, we can do this.’ I was one of the kids that came out of the inner city and made it. So they were like 'Wow! This is realistic!' And that what is was. Me and [Pharrell] always sit back and talk about this.”
Loic Villepontoux: “Terry Kennedy seriously brought a lot of credibility to what were were doing, to be accepted in a community beyond just a celebrity trying to get into that world."
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: “Pharrell really came from that community. He hung out with oddballs in school, he was into skateboarding . He’s always been into the far left cultures. All it was was him embracing. Him and Terry had a good relationship and a love for skateboarding. I think that's where that whole program developed out of.”
Pharrell Williams: [As a teenager] “I got called ‘Oreo’ as a kid. Because I was black but I hung with white boys and skated.”
Terry Kennedy: “When we dropped the Icecream video that was huge. Everyone was like 'OK, y’all are a force to be reckoned with.' For one, you gotta understand we were bringing a different culture to the game. I’m wearing jewelry, had nice cars. It was a flamboyant lifestyle at that time, we travel with Pharrell and stuff ya know. I don’t know if the skateboard [scene] at that time could accept it. We created this rock star image for skateboarding and for minorities.”
THE REEBOK YEARS
Loic Villenpontoux: “Originally Icecream was supposed to be sneakers, and Billionaire Boys Club was supposed to be apparel. When we started, we had a deal in place with Reebok to manufacture the Icecream sneaker and the apparel for Billionaire Boys Club. This was different for Reebok because the apparel was manufactured in Japan. They weren't very comfortable with the way we set this up and so we took the apparel away from them and just worked on the sneakers. But once we started getting all of the art for the sneakers, Nigo always thought it was a waste just to have sneakers for Icecream. So we started making apparel for Icecream."
In the beginning, it was all going to be Reebok.
Toby Feltwell: “In the beginning, it was all going to be Reebok. Nigo and I had our reservations. It was something Pharrell wanted to do, but it wasn’t something that was naturally set for their system.
“It was all about translating Pharrell's vision and getting Reebok to manufacture it. They were better on some things than others. Footwear was much easier for them [than] apparel because they were coming from a totally different tradition. Eventually, they said they would rather not make [apparel] and it ended up coming back in our direction.”
Nino Scalia: “It was kind of frustrating because I think structurally Reebok just wasn’t ready for it. I don't think they took the skate stuff that serious because it was the era of the S Dot Carter and G-Unit. Lil Wayne had a shoe, Lupe Fiasco had a shoe and Pharrell had a whole line and they were winning so hard. So to them it was like, 'Well if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.'
When that relationship came to an expiration, you could tell there was a shift in the company.
—Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki
“[Had the partnership worked out], I'd like to think it would've been huge and amazing. The team would have grown instead of having to reboot and start small again.
“Skateboarders demand certain things and there’s a core market that you have to pay attention to. If a skate shop sees your stuff in Kohl's they don’t want it. I fought really hard for them to build a core sales team and they just wouldn't listen. It was like no matter how much Pharrell yelled at people, they just didn't listen.”
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: “That was probably the toughest thing. When that relationship came to an expiration, you could tell there was a shift in the company."
Terry Kennedy: “Yeah that was a tough time for me at that point because I didn't know what direction to go in. We were doing so well with it and it was picking up. Reebok and Pharrell, I don't know the details but whatever it was, there was a misunderstanding and they both didn't wanna go further together. So that whole time, Pharrell was trying to figure out what other joint venture to do to help carry the brand. He was asking me to ride it out and I rode it out for a couple months. Without having a shoe sponsor, I still rode it out with Pharrell because I respect his vision. I just waited and then he said ‘Hey I’m sorry. I can’t figure nothing out at this moment. Let’s think something again in the future. I don't think it’s over but I don't want to do nothing at this moment,’ because he saw that I had started to come out of pocket. It started getting tough in a sense like all the weight just started to come on him.”
Reebok could've turned us into a version of Y-3 or something.
Phillip Leeds: “I feel like, the Reebok situation not working out and us going to Japan worked for the benefit of the brand. I feel like it gave us a cool mystique. I don't know what [Reebok was] planning to do in terms of distribution. But I feel like the way things went gave us a big part of our cool and recipe of success. Reebok could've turned us into a version of Y-3 or something. It’s high end fashion.”
In December of 2004, Pharrell filed a lawsuit against Reebok for $4 million citing quality and distribution issues. The lawsuit was eventually dropped after the two parties came to an agreement.
REBOOTING AFTER REEBOK
Pharrell Williams: “Actually, that experience taught me so much about my brand and who I am. And also what made sense for me. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, because I would have never gotten the lessons I got. I felt like, the cool experiences that Reebok and us shared together were amazing. I’m thankful for those experiences and I’m just… 10 years later, how can you have a problem with rungs in the ladder? It’s the only way you get to the top of it. To climb is to appreciate every step.”
Nino Scalia: “We hit a point where things kinda fell apart with Reebok where he had to take a step back and reevaluate and that’s where the dead zone hit until a year ago when we put a new Icecream skate team together and the new kids are all really rad too.”
The cool experiences that Reebok and us shared together were amazing... 10 years later, how can you have a problem with rungs in the ladder? It’s the only way you get to the top of it. To climb is to appreciate every step.
Terry Kennedy: “When he left Reebok, all the weight came off and he was like, ‘I hope the best for you.’ After that I went to Supra and it was history from there. The other kids kept skating. They got picked up by other teams. Everyone just went their own direction.”
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: "Every company moves on and in all honesty I think it was for the best for everybody. Terry already had some things that he needed to do, myself moving on—it was definitely a personal growth for everybody. It was a very natural progression: the closing of the door in that first chapter. It was something that we could look back on and appreciate, to be part of something. It was a crucial moment in music, it was a crucial moment in pop culture, it was a crucial moment in skateboarding. To look back and say we were all influential amongst that little pocket of mobility during that time, it was an honor to be part of it."
ECONOMICS & EXPANSION
Loic Villepontoux: “We started working with certain stores that we thought made sense and with the price point we were at, there were only a handful of stores in the U.S. that could sell the clothing and be successful. [Billionaire Boys Club] was exclusive but it wasn't meant to be at the beginning; Pharrell always wants to be inclusive with his fans. The pricing was getting prohibitive.”
Phillip Leeds: “The way we were doing things was not a long-term success plan. We were making stuff very expensive in Japan and in very small quantities and selling very few of them. Pharrell and Nigo put a lot of money into our brand. If you think of the merchandise, they were very popular and in demand but we weren't selling a lot of clothing and there’s only so long you can maintain that without going belly-up. So we wanted to reevaluate our business model and turn it into a successful business that maintained the original idea but make it more available. Pharrell has such a wide fanbase that we excluded so many of them by being so high priced and exclusive.”
Loic Villepontoux: “There was no price difference between Icecream and Billionaire Boys Club. So Icecream was a little more colorful and aimed at a younger audience. Billionaire Boys Club was a little less colorful but again if you walked into the store everything was the same price. We always wanted to separate the two brands. Even when we started working with China, because we did try, we ended up doing some stuff for Icecream in China, but the problem was that it was all coming through Japan and the agents needed their fee and it was still an expensive product. I think one of the main reasons we decided to make a switch was because we needed to grow the brand and we couldn't really grow the brand based on the price point and where it was. We had to expand Icecream and lower the brand and we couldn't do that with the structure we used to be in. So switching over allowed us to get manufacturers at a certain price which made Icecream sell at a lower price point which could compete in a skate environment.”
THE ROC PARTNERSHIP
Loic Villepontoux: “Basically when we left Japan, when we decided to make a change. It was mostly because our business wasn’t growing and Nigo was really focusing on his Bathing Ape business. This was during the financial crisis so everyone was hurting and we knew that to survive we had to make a change and change pricing and production. So we agreed with Nigo that we had to go out and find a new partner because he had to focus on Bathing Ape and we had to focus on our business. So Jay Z has been a real strong supporter of the brand from when it started and has always talked to Pharrell about the brand, so it was a perfect fit. That was 2011, two years ago.”
Pharrell Williams: “He respects, he’s a partner… Ya know what I’m saying? And so he does no forcing with anything. He would never do that. That’s not the type of person he is. He just remains supportive.”
It’s not like Jay bought it from us; Jay partnered with us.
Phillip Leeds: "We definitely had some of our die-hard kids voice their concerns. It was a broad reaction. Some people were more excited because it was gonna be more available and some people thought Jay was gonna turn Billionaire Boys Club into Rocawear. I think that initial reaction is understandable but Pharrell is still involved. It’s not like Jay bought it from us; Jay partnered with us. I think a lot of people didn't understand the difference between that.
"Jay and Pharrell have had a long history of being successful and creatively making great stuff together. I think that's why Pharrell wanted to be here instead of other places that we had the opportunity to go to. He felt comfortable with Jay-z because of their relationship from music. When you talk to other people in fashion, there's a lot of strange and unusual characters that just wanna make stuff as cheap as possible and sell it to as many people as possible. So I think Pharrell knew that Jay got the aesthetic and understood the vision. We want to sell clothes and we want to be be successful but we have to maintain our integrity, the DNA of our brand."
In May 2012 the Jay Z's Roc Apparel Group, which markets Rocawear under license from Iconix, signed a partnership agreement with Billionaire Boys Club/Icecream.
STAYING IN THE GAME
Pharrell Williams: “I think it was a combination of things. There is a blessing, being fortunate to be surrounded by the right stars. The stars have to align in order for you to see the right constellation. So, I’ve had the right stars around me, the right influencers, the right doers, and ‘can do’ thinkers. And I’ve also just…I won’t credit myself. I’m not into that, but I’ve just been inspired by people I’ve encountered, movies that have moved me, conversation. You just never know where the inspiration comes from. But I’ve been allowed to have the platform to express it. And that’s a gift in itself to me."
Phillip Leeds: “I think we are really lucky to have weathered all the storms that we've been through. But I think it comes from Pharrell and he’s sort of omnipotent around different genres and the way that Pharrell has this mass appeal. He’s pop, rock, and hip-hop, and he has the credibility. We’ve gotten a lot of support from the fashion world as well as the music and entertainment world. And next is the designs. I think us keeping it small and exclusive for so long helped the demand for it and the chance for the brand to grow. Kids saw people they look up to wearing it. It’s kind of funny because we stay in very few stores and it was exclusive but ya know, you can buy it on the web. If you knew where to look [online] and had enough money you could buy it. It wasn't that hard to find but it still had this kind of mystique. Our prices at first definitely made it hard to come by.”
Nino Scalia: “Just Pharrell, man. Just his personal brand. It’s magic what the guy does. I’ve been around so much and seen how he is as a person. I watched him pitch Gwen Stefani on ‘Hollaback Girl’ and taking that direction with her when she was this Orange County SoCal punk rock girl. You know that's him. The fact that he was the dude that came out and wore trucker hats at that time when everyone was wearing oversized Rocawear shirts and sweatsuits. When people were wearing Timberlands, this guy got dunks. That’s what we initially put it on, like I was a super sneaker head and he came to Philly one weekend and I took him to all the spots and he literally emptied out half the stores in Philly. That was him, he was connected to that culture and being part of that. That's who he is and that's injected into Billionaire Boys Club. It’s not even about necessarily the clothing as much as it is the brand.”
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: “Out of the gate the brand name was always synonymous to something classy. In the beginning, that affiliation with Bathing Ape, you know at that point the brand was so unattainable because it was like one or two BAPE stores in the United States. First, people didn't know how to get it. There was that mystique. I think that history of the brand really pushed it. It’s a testament to the way Pharrell carries himself. He’s a real classy dude. He doesn’t do anything with just anybody. He works with Louis Vuitton and Moncler and whoever else. I think it’s really just a testament to that."
Loic Villepontoux: “A lot of it has to do with Pharrell and people believing in him. People look at him as a fashion icon. He could never stop wearing the brand and he believed in the brand so it was easy for people to associate the brand with Pharrell."
Terry Kennedy: “I would say, Pharrell, me, and the team. It was something new to our generation! I mean, me and Pharrell skateboarding, coming from Long Beach California with Snoop, it was different. It’s Pharrell having the vision to carry out. It was something he believed in. He just believed in his vision that helped his brand stay 10 years in the game."
Phillip Leeds: “Over the last two years since our new structure, I feel like we brought in our reach. There’s a lot of new kids wearing our stuff that didn't use to wear it. We are in places we used to not be in. There's kids that shop and aren't looking for a specific brand but they see something that catches their eye and it’s cool. They buy it and it’s not like a lot of people are just buying our brand because of Pharrell necessarily; they buy it because of the graphics or colors.”
Nino Scalia: “To me its like everything’s changed, he changed, clothing has changed, street fashion has changed and it’s just evolved along with it but to me it’s like he's a step or two ahead. And people looked at him for that. So to the guy who can't wear leather pants, like Kanye, because that's a step too far, he gets Pharrell.”
Phillip Leeds: “I just had a conversation with the designers and we were saying we are trying too hard to be the old Billionaire Boys Club and we need to look more to the future. We have an amazing heritage and we have an amazing archive of graphics and styles. They are all valuable and we should not turn our backs on it. But some of it is not where we people are at in 2013 and we have to continue to be futuristic. There’s a group of Icecream supporters who would go crazy if we reissued every old thing we've ever made and then there’s other people who will say why do they keep giving us the same old shit. So it’s hard to make everybody happy but we find that balance where we celebrate our heritage and make new issues as well.”
Loic Villepontoux: “Pharrell is definitely a kid at heart, he’s always very youthful so it hasn't really changed. It’s still the same in a way. It’s evolved in terms of direction of the season but I think it’s still the same. I think one of the reasons it’s still successful is because we found something we were good at and we haven't tried to just go too far into fashion. We have fashion pieces but it’s consistent.”
Pharrell Williams: “Look at this generation. Look at all the ‘can-doers’ now. All the kids that are like ‘I AM OTHER,’ no pun intended. Like, don’t put me in a box (which is where it comes from) and what can I do? It’s amazing to watch and look online and see how it just caught up and how everybody is like 'Don’t put me in a box. I will out-write you, I will out-produce you, I will out-act you, I will out-design you, and like what can’t I do? And I’m happy because we’re living in the microwave era (that’s what I call it). I call it the microwave era because people want it instantly. So they want it conveniently, want it fast, and they want it now and they may not want it in 5 more minutes. So like, by the time everything is so fast, it’s really fucking awesome to see that has not dissuaded the ‘can-doers’ and the others.”
Nino Scalia: “To me, it’s set the tone for everything it is now. For me, it’s funny how much there was that push back. DGK was around at that time, but by no means would have the ability to do what is is doing now if it wasn't a tone set for that by Billionaire Boys Club and Icecream. Because of that movement, the major skate retailers actually created a category called 'skurban,' skate urban, and that was all because of Icecream. No one was doing that, no one was looking at that. Pharrell created that new customer. It was the hood kid that maybe didn't wanna sell drugs but didn't like basketball. He liked music and loved being swaggy and probably decided to pick up a skateboard.”
Jimmy “Sweatpants" Gorecki: “I think the brand message and ideology of the brand is to remain true to what Pharrell and Nigo and these guys sought to to do from the gate. I think that’s what got it here to this point. Even when the brand might have had the least amount of visibility, they never changed how they wanted to be presented. That’s what got them here to this point. I think that’s why you see a whole new young generation of kids, who may have not been around for that first day, wearing the stuff now.”
Loic Villepontoux: “Obviously for Pharrell, because it brings him to different arenas, we don't like to look at our business and get pigeonholed into streetwear even though people would say we are doing hoodies and T-shirts and that’s streetwear, but we let other people put in the category. We just make clothes. I don’t think Pharrell himself fits into any specific category. Everything, we try to approach it where we want to appeal to everybody.”
Loic Villepontoux: “We actually saw [Michael Kagan’s] work on a blog somewhere and showed it to Pharrell and he really liked his work. He had a series of painting about space exploration and Billionaire Boys Club has been inspired by space. It made sense and when we did a little research, it turns out that the guy was also from Virginia Beach (Pharrell’s hometown) and was now living in New York. We contacted him and he knew who Pharrell was and had a lot of respect for him, so we picked three images we felt were really strong and collaborated with him and did T-shirts and sweatshirts and it went really well.”
Phillip Leeds: “[Our favorite collaboration is Bathing Ape] just because of our close relationship with BAPE and all our of our collaborations with them. We have baby milos versions of our logos.”
Pharrell Williams: “We’ve been flirting with [Billionaire Girls Club] for years, because there has always been a demand. I wanted to do it at the right moment, and I wanted to do it with the right person. And so Youn is our head designer. People know who she is and if you don’t, you should look her up. She has amazing taste, amazing style, beautiful, incredibly creative. We’re just very happy to have her.”
Phillip Leeds: “Bee Line started with Mark McNairy. Pharrell met Mark through one of the execs of Roc Apparel who was friends with Mark, his name is Ron Demichael. Ronnie introduced us to Mark to talk to us about a shoe collaboration and Mark and Pharrell immediately hit it off and Pharrell was like ‘I love this guy. Let’s do more with him than just a shoe.’ Pharrell was in Paris and visited the Louvre and at the Louvre, he saw a little Napoleon stuff, and I guess when Napoleon took power in France, he changed all of the royal symbols from the leaves to bumblebees. Pharrell was just inspired by Napoleon switching an established royal symbol to be his own when he took power and came up with idea of Bee Line.”
Loic Villepontoux: “When we started our relationship with Jay and Roc Apparel, we really wanted to make sure we dropped prices for Billionaire Boys Club and Icecream. BBC is still a premium-price product, but it's much more affordable than when [when we manufactured] in Japan. And because we were expanding distribution we still wanted to satisfy those customers that wanted an exclusive product, a high-quality product, so we created Bee Line with Mark McNairy. It’s really the only reason we did that. It’s a little different and more mature but I think it fits with Pharrell’s vision and what Pharrell is into now. He wears Bee Line almost every day. Billionaire Girls Club was just obvious. We used to make X-Small solely for our female customers but now we want to have a more specific brand for women to get into. Billionaire Girls Club right now is just a small capsule collection that we put in our store but we are designing a full collection with Youn. She’s got some awesome stuff already. And we have Icecream Girl which Vashtie is creative director for and that will launch in spring 2014. Hopefully we’ll have a kids line as well, it would make a lot of sense.”
THE FUTURE OF STREETWEAR
Toby Feltwell: “When people are trying to rip off your style that you created or popularized, that’s a problem and the most popular way to look at that is to look at it as an encouragement to keep moving forward in a way and that was definitely what Pharrell did.”
Loic Villepontoux:“I feel like BAPE really started what we saw was a certain aesthetic in that world and luckily, by hooking up with Nigo, it helped us to follow in our footsteps with our own vision and design. By being authentic and doing what we do, kids believe in our brand.”
Kids who grew up with N.E.R.D. are now in their 20s and working. There’s a new regime. —Phillip Leeds
Phillip Leeds: “I sort of think it’s similar how hip-hop is now mainstream music. Hip-hop used to be like punk rock, it used to be a very small subculture, and now hip-hop is music and streetwear is fashion. It became a norm. If you look at a guy like Steven Spielberg, he wears a baseball hat and a Billionaire Boys Club T-shirt under his blazer and jeans and sneakers. I think it’s become more acceptable for people to dress more casually cool than buttoned up. There has been a cultural shift as older people are getting older and younger people are getting more into that demographic of [becoming] a leader. Kids who grew up with N.E.R.D. are now in their 20s and working. There’s a new regime.”
Nino Scalia: “I hope [streetwear] goes back to what it was before because right now it’s kind of sucky. I’m 35 now. My brother’s apartment was around the corner of Supreme, so I grew up when Supreme was a skate shop, it wasn't a streetwear brand. Honestly I think it’s tough to even classify yourself as a streetwear brand anymore because most of those retailers that helped you define yourself are gone. And you have the Internet now. There needs to be this sense of what streetwear was about. You had to search and dig for it and look for things. Now it’s just one Google click away. Unfortunately, for my generation we really had to fight to educate ourselves about what the stuff was about and where it came from. It really was ours but it's everyone's now. I don't wanna be the grumpy old guy in the rocking chair like ‘I remember when...' but that time was so rad to me because of the fact you felt so much ownership. I would like to see it go back there or become another facet of high fashion. Certain brands rise and become that. Because the reality is the ethos behind the Japan side of street style, Neighborhood, Bathing Ape, Undercover, Hysteric Glamour, their whole thing was, 'If Gucci can put their name on a T-shirt and charge $200, why can't I do it?' So their mindset came from more of a couture fashion, whereas in America the streetwear brands are just more about DIY skate ethic. in my opinion that's two very different things. A pair of neighborhood jeans are $800 but a pair of The Hundreds is $75. So I would like it see it rise to that level or completely go back to how it was—but neither of them will happen unfortunately.”
Terry Kennedy: “It’s big now. It’s everywhere, especially with fashion and culture of sport. All these new leaders, myself included with me building a brand, I see us driving it. We gotta keep delivering this fly new wave of fashion.”
THE NEXT #BBCDECADE
Phillip Leeds: “I think we are gonna expand. We often talked about Icecream Kids. Probably in the next year or two we’ll do more accessories. We've also talked about electronics and some other licensing opportunities. I know that Pharrell wants to get into the outdoor space with outdoor equipment and camping equipment. I think we’ll just continue doing what we are doing and just stay cool.”
Loic Villepontoux: “It’s hard to believe it's been 10 years already. It’s been an amazing ride. Definitely wanna expand and open more stores globally and be more in control of our retail environment. One of the difficult things for anyone is seeing your brand in someone else’s store and that person has their own vision and you have to respect that because that person is supporting your brand. Our vision is not always their vision. The more stores of ours open, we want that [to be] the way for people to see our brand for the first time. I hope in the next 10 years we can open more stores and show our brand the way we want it to be presented."
Pharrell Williams: “We love it. It’s not just the means of having a brand, or making money. We love it, we actually really love, we love it. We know how lucky and blessed we are. Dude, that’s my store. It’s weird. I can’t believe my life.”
Nino Scalia: “For me it’s always gonna be the OG white and red diamond dollar shoes because that was such a thing! That was the first shoe out. We all got those to skate in and there was handful of pairs made in each size and everyone on the team would fight for 'em. It was funny because everyone wore like a size 8 ½ to a 10 so it was like I had to dole them out slowly but surely. To me it’s like something you can wear now and people will still get psyched on it. It just has a lasting sense to it. I think [also] our first letterman jacket because it was like ‘Okay, it’s on and cracking now.’ We all got our deliveries, our boxes and were like ‘What color did you get? What color did you get?’ because it was either black with white sleeves or red with white sleeves. Everyone freaking the fuck out ‘cause they were $1000 bucks at retail. People were really falling over themselves to get their hands on it and we got it for free!”
Jimmy “Sweatpants” Gorecki: “Probably the original diamonds and dollar sign sneakers, and the hoodies too I think. I was just such a fan, I would walk out the house with the pants, the sweatshirts, the shoes, the T-shirt. I mean I look at the pictures and I’m like, “You look fucking nuts.” It’s funny now with the reemergence of BAPE and Billionaire Boys Club that’s happening right now, so many kids are like “Yo do you still have this piece, do you still have that piece?” I really like watching this renaissance that's goin gon with the brand, as we speak.”
Terry Kennedy: “I wanna say just my shoe, groundbreaking thing that I like from Icecream, and for the shirt, the original dollar and diamonds. The original one is just epic.”
FRIENDS OF THE BRAND
Teyana Taylor: “I was signed to Pharrell when I was 15. Anything with that Star Trak movement I was on it 100%. When I met Pharrell, we literally had on the same Icecreams. It was completely unplanned. Two different meetings. The one with Interscope and the Star Trak one, and both times we had the same exact sneakers, different colors. It was crazy!
“It’s just something about the stuff, it’s so different. I guess the definition is it’s where hood and high fashion meet or streetwear and high fashion meet. It still had class on it but there was something so swaggy about it. It gave people a different outlook on clothing.”
Remy Banks (Children of the Night): “It’s a different type of lifestyle brand that I can relate to. The culture behind BBC I guess is you can be behind your brand but you don’t have to be flashy. You can be chill and comfy with it.”
A$AP Rocky: “Pharrell is the representation of jiggy for our generation. He represents for those who are different and creative.”
Bow Wow: “Man, I been seeing it since the beginning but since I moved right around the corner from the NYC store, I’m back rocking it, you know? It’s simple, comfortable, and fly at the same time. [What kept them in the game for so long is ] them sticking to they guns and not trying to compete or copy the 'new' it brands.”
Pusha T: "The true style icon to me is Pharrell Williams. And what they’ve created and continue to create, to just raise the bar for a brand that is rich in quality and rich in a standard. It’s probably the go-to streetwear brand. I want people to know, like I do this as the student. I am 100% a student of Pharrell Williams. Style student; Pharrell Williams."
Swizz Beatz: “The BBC brand is a stone in the culture. It was way ahead of its time, but so is my brother P.”