Louis Vuitton may have delivered the world’s biggest surprise on Valentine’s Day when the French luxury house unveiled that Pharrell Williams would become Louis Vuitton’s new creative director of menswear. It was another bolt of lightning sent down by a label known for making creative decisions that have produced both shock and awe within the fashion industry. Naturally, fans of Williams (and his celebrity friends) rejoiced that he would be filling the late-Virgil Abloh’s shoes. Williams’ appointment aptly arrives as hip-hop turns 50—finally, after years of seeing major fashion labels reference or take from hip-hop style, an elite fashion house gave one of rap’s most eclectic style icons a seat at the table. Many others, however, were perplexed that LVMH picked Williams over several other fashion designers who were also allegedly considered, including Martine Rose, Grace Wales Bonner, Telfar Clemens, and Colm Dillane of KidSuper.
Like Dapper Dan, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Kanye West, Williams has long defined pop-culture’s understanding of hip-hop style. He broke the stereotypical conventions of hip-hop fashion by dressing like a skateboarder; he’s a global connector who personally linked with NIGO to usher in an era of Ura-Harajuku-inspired streetwear to the United States that dominated young adult fashion for a decade; his Y2K remixing of Slick Rick’s ostentatious jewelry was literally copy and pasted by rappers like Drake today. Although Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club label strayed far away from Yeezy’s fashion hoop dreams, the N.E.R.D. frontman is one of the few artists who could say they’ve already worked with luxury labels like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Moncler, and Tiffany & Co. But is Williams’ appointment a true endorsement of the influence that hip-hop has over contemporary fashion today? Or, is it another flashy marketing ploy by LVMH informed by star power?