After the death of Virgil Abloh in 2021, it’s been hard to imagine a successor for his menswear position at Louis Vuitton. But the question arises: why? And, perhaps more important: what to expect? The critiques are harsh and thorough, questioning whether a celebrity like Pharell is the suited candidate for the job. Let’s dive in.
Cover photo: courtesy of Louis Vuitton, shot by Erik Ian
Pharell Williams at Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton and Pharell Williams. Two names that don’t need any explanation. “We’re happy to welcome Pharell back home,” said Louis Vuitton CEO Pietro Beccari, referencing the artist’s collaborations with the house in 2004 and 2008. As the new Men’s Creative Director, Pharell Williams is the direct successor of Virgil Abloh. Pharell (who doesn’t need his surname to be recognized) has an impressive track record, indeed. His success is undeniable with over ten billion music streams, 13 Grammy Awards, two Academy Award nominations, and a Golden Globe nomination. When it comes to music, Pharell stands solely at the top. How his creative vision will translate itself to fashion, is a different story. The first reactions consist of mixed feelings.
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The main question is: why Pharell Williams? With thousands of fashion graduates eager to learn yearly and reach the top, choosing a celebrity for this position seems easy. It could have been worse, though, and every successor of the late Virgil Abloh would have difficulty replacing him.
Besides, no celebrity is as lovable as Pharell Williams. Of course, there was the Blurred Lines video clip, where Emily Ratajkowski didn’t feel safe – but it had nothing to do with Pharell. The only thing he openly regretted about the song was the poorly written-lyrics he co-wrote. After extensive research, it seems that Pharell has no enemies. There’s nothing to criticize him about. His songs are cheerful (with Happy being the equivalent of his constant state of being), his vibe is uplifting, and his creative vision is relevant. Hence, he’s a calm activist who managed to make Juneteenth an official, paid, national holiday. So, how could anyone criticize Louis Vuitton’s choice? Pharell isn’t a fashion designer, critics say. And how successful he can be on other fronts; fashion design shouldn’t be understated as a profession or a craft. But even that ‘blemish’ on his resume isn’t the problem since Abloh was self-taught, just like Jacquemus and Matthew Williams (Givenchy). It doesn’t predict any of their success.
Celebrification of fashion
The pain point goes deeper. The issue isn’t Pharell himself; rather, the problem lies in the celebrification of fashion. Pharell’s appointment is just the tip of the iceberg. Looking back at Paris Haute Couture Week, the highlights comprised celebrities and famous front rows. Kylie Jenner’s look at Irina Shayk wearing the same outfit at Schiaparelli’s runway evoked a bigger media storm than the collection itself. It shows how fashion slowly moves away from a focus on arts and craftsmanship to a celebrity-centered industry.
Don’t get us wrong, Pharell’s track record in fashion is almost as endless as his music career. The only thing is his success within the fashion industry all happened in the zeroes. His aesthetic has been widely adopted by peers, who have outpaced him ever since. We all remember his giant hat (which got his own Twitter account), his funky Chanel sunglasses, and his collaboration with Adidas, but are they going to make him the next Abloh? Perhaps that’s not something to strive for, but being as visionary, frontrunning, and ahead of time as the late art director used to be is something to strive for. And the question of whether Pharell Williams can do so remains unanswered until June 2023.