Should We Expect Pharrell Williams to Create Like a Fashion Designer?

Pharrell Williams is an eternal student with good taste and a skill for making impactful accessories. But he is not yet a fashion designer. Complex reviews his Fall/Winter 2024 show for Louis Vuitton Men’s.

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Pharrell isn’t a fashion designer. 

He is a creative person and genius producer with great taste who wears clothes very well. He has a rare, chameleon-like ability to take on different uniforms (veering into cosplay at times) and still look like himself. And he typically always presents as cool.

Over the years he’s pushed boundaries and influenced many with his clothing choices. He has a knack for designing interesting accessories that become timestamps in culture and prove to be commercially viable. He’s also a shopper who clearly loves clothes and accessories and has spent most of his adult life observing what other designers and dressers do. He then integrates those elements into his own wardrobe, sometimes customizing them how he sees fit—in 2011 before he officially partnered with Chanel, he wore a pair of black Timberlands with a hand-drawn Chanel logo on the toe box. Complex asked if this was an official Chanel x Timberland collaboration and Pharrell responded, via X (formerly known as Twitter): “Nah...just me on my grunge $#!+”

But Pharrell isn’t grunge anymore. He’s a part of the establishment as the artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. And he has all the resources needed to make the mash-up of products he’s always dreamed of. But since he’s not a fashion designer, his latest Fall/Winter 2024 collection, and its execution, come as no surprise. 

He leaned into a Western theme, which isn’t new territory for Williams. He and his wife, Helen Lasichanh, wore matching black and white Chanel Western fits to the Met Gala in 2021. And we can’t forget about the Vivienne Westwood buffalo hat he wore to the Grammys in 2014 that dominated conversation on social media throughout the year, turning him into a meme and popular Halloween costume. 

That costumey feel came through again in this latest collection, with Pharrell presenting very literal interpretations of the theme. Models wore Western shirts embellished with genuine turquoise, Carhartt-inspired work jackets made with premium fabrics, leather moto jackets with fringe, and buffalo plaid flannel shirts. He brought in some codes he established for his first Louis Vuitton collection Damoflage, which came in new colorways, the Damier print made up of turquoise embellishments, and collarless tweed jackets. Some of his most impressive pieces are the leather jackets, which came in a wide variety of flavors: a black leather jacket embroidered with Western flourishes and an LV logo, an airbrushed jacket with Las Vegas references, and more.

The clothes are beautifully made with thoughtful and intricate details, but they lacked a distinct interpretation or point of view that we expect from fashion designers. Instead, it seems as if Pharrell is acting as a merchant who is more concerned with making clothes that sell rather than imbuing them with actual design. 

Ahead of his first collection for Louis Vuitton, he said his main goal is to provide the Louis Vuitton customer with all of their wardrobe needs (formal wear, comfort, resort, sport, core staples, and tailoring). This makes for cool, solid pieces, but it leaves something to be desired when depicting an overall vision that speaks beyond the clothes.

But it’s not as if he didn’t try to tell a story. Pharrell talked to reporters about what inspired the show, stating that most of the time cowboys are presented as white males, when in reality there is a long lineage of Black and Indigenous cowboys.

The show notes referenced Ron Husband, a Black animator who worked at Disney for nearly four decades. Director Bafic documented Husband drawing a Black cowboy, which became a key inspiration for the show (it appeared on a long tailored coat) but it wasn’t utilized enough to pack a real punch. And members of the Oklahoma Cowboys, a group of Black cowboys from Oklahoma, walked the show.

Pharrell also worked with artists from the Dakota and Lakota nations to design accessories including a Speedy bag embroidered with the Dakota Flower, and help with the staging of the show (they had a rousing performance at the afterparty.) And there were a few “if you know you know” moments, like the casting of Will Lemay, a model who appeared in Sean John and Pelle Pelle runway shows in the past. There were also nylon all-over logo tracksuits that call to mind Dapper Dan and play on Pharrell’s desire to bring bootleg styles inside the house. 

Based on his decisions so far, Pharrell is clearly aiming to center and acknowledge marginalized people in a way luxury fashion brands typically don’t, and reflect Black dress codes that informed him on the runway. But the narrative threads never fully came together. And it sometimes felt like checking off the boxes instead of meaningful storytelling.

Accessories are Pharrell’s strong suit where he’s able to show his distinct point of view and be innovative. He brought back the collapsible Speedy bags in new colorways including turquoise, hot pink, and a royal purple (Pharrell is very good at color, always picking just the right hues) and one made from ostrich leather. He presented a heat-molded bag, and a new take on the Millionaires Sunglasses, now coming in three new styles made from carbon fiber and white gold set with real diamonds. 

He also introduced new versions of Louis Vuitton’s Steamer luggage in various shapes and sizes along with a sculptural dome bag that will be in high demand. 

The Louis Vuitton Timberlands were a big moment (harking back to those DIY Chanel customized Timberlands Pharrell wore). The assortment included monogrammed styles and a laceless style reminiscent of a cowboy or moto boot. Pharrell’s been a longstanding Timberland partner, so the collaboration made sense. It will be worn by Pharrell along with other influential artists he calls friends, and desired by consumers.

And maybe that’s all LVMH wants—a brand ambassador who has celebrity friends and makes good accessories. Traditionally, accessories account for most of a luxury brand’s sales, and apparently Pharrell’s are selling like hotcakes despite the very high price points. He’s the most ideal billboard for the collection and he is tied to music and entertainment, inviting artists like Playboi Carti, Lil Yachty, Gunna, Quavo, and more to the show. The show also featured new songs Pharrell made with the Native Voices of Resistance, Mumford & Sons, Jelly Roll, and Miley Cyrus. 

The experience was entertaining. The execs at LVMH are probably pleased, but it felt like something was missing. We fell in love with Pharrell because he was so innovative, mining older sounds with his Neptunes production partner Chad Hugo, and taking them to a new, weird, but good, dimension. His music appealed to the masses without being generic and changed the sound of rap, pop, and R&B. And as that was happening, Pharrell was mining the aesthetics of the past, too, mixing hip-hop codes with luxury, skate, and prep. Now at Louis Vuitton, he’s making nice pieces, but they are lacking the verve or fully formed intentionality that we’ve seen from Pharrell in other areas. The grunge is gone.

Pharrell isn’t a fashion designer. He’s not helping us reconsider how we might view a garment or displaying a strong or unique vision. But he is doing the job LVMH hired him to do. And if sales are an indication of success, he’s doing it well. I just hope that he digs a little deeper. That doesn’t mean becoming something he’s not, but it means considering how the audience, not just the consumer, is taking in his collection. That means providing a vision that’s not solely rooted in SKUs and sales, but one that makes us see people, places, and things in a new light. That’s the power of fashion, and it’s a power we’ve seen Pharrell tap into over the years by introducing us to new things and shaping our interests. We hope he gets back to that while he’s at Louis Vuitton.

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