It's officially Fashion vs. Commerce | Pharrell Williams takes over Louis Vuitton Men's
Today's fashion industry worships its relationship with commerce & capitalism – and I think we're somewhat stuck in a bubble.
The result? Personally – I feel like this relationship has ushered us into 'The Age of Mediocrity'. And with that being said, it is imperative that we ask ourselves important questions, such as: "What does it even mean to be a successful luxury fashion designer within today's fashion industry ecosystem?" & "Does being the creative director of a luxury fashion house today mean the same thing it meant about a decade or more ago?"
I think yes & no – and only once I started unpacking this seemingly simple-yet-complex chain of questions did I begin to rationalise Louis Vuitton's most-recent decision to hire Pharrell Williams as creative director of the adorned fashion luxury house. As the majority of us already know Pharrell to be a multi-hyphenate musician, producer & entrepreneur – the one area of his expertise which I feel mass media has failed to elaborate on is his tangible experience within the fashion industry (luxury and streetwear) – not only as a brand influencer, collaborator and tastemaker, but as well as a fashion designer and creative director within his own right.
There also tends to be this toxic, ever-present, right-wing opinion when deserving Black multi-talented creatives are elected into actual design positions of power. The exact same thing happened with the late Virgil Abloh as soon as he was appointed as artistic director of LV Men's in 2018. Despite Abloh's experience interning at Fendi from as early as 2009, successfully launching streetwear brands such as 'Pyrex Vision' and 'Been Trill' (with Matthew Williams of Givenchy and Heron Preston), as well as creating luxury streetwear brand 'Off-White' – he still succumbed to a similar vein of criticism, which I've witnessed Pharrell being exposed to since his announcement as LV creative director a few days ago.
Don't get me wrong – personally, I certainly would have picked Martine Rose for the Louis Vuitton creative director position. I still do feel that she is more deserving of the position & would have been more interested in seeing what creative future she had envisioned for the brand. Albeit so, Pharrell Williams is still a suitable option and has been an ever-present figure within the global fashion industry for well over a couple of decades.
Vogue's Laure Guilbault (2023) writes:
"Williams is no stranger to fashion. He is co-owner of streetwear brand Human Made with Kenzo creative director Nigo; founder of the Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream streetwear brands; co-owner of G-Star Raw Denim; and a regular collaborator with Tiffany. The entrepreneur ventured into beauty with gender-neutral skincare brand Humanrace in 2020. He is also a longtime friend of Chanel, having served as a muse to the late Karl Lagerfeld and attended the recent Métiers d’art show in Dakar."
And there's more.
Pharrell has previously been tapped for high-profile luxury brand collaborations with traditional heritage luxury houses such as Chanel & Louis Vuitton itself – conceptualising unique products and accessories (such as "The Millionaires") which were wildly successful in incorporating elements of hip-hop culture into high-fashion.
The best fashion designers aren't necessarily at the largest luxury houses anymore – it is absolute fragmentation. Therefore, in hindsight, maybe Pharrell could be the perfect selection for the LV job. It feels like somewhat of a situational mix of when 2000s Marc Jacobs started incorporating hip-hop culture into the DNA of Louis Vuitton, plus Kenzo's 2021 appointment of Nigo. Funny enough – both fashion houses (Louis Vuitton & Kenzo) are owned by the same parent company, LVMH.
So, considering the ever-present cold war between Bernard Arnault's LVMH and François-Henri Pinault's Kering – I think Louis Vuitton are trying to make creative decision which make sense within all business aspects. This includes appealing to LV's brand sensibilities, commerciality, as well as the ability to understand (and reinterpret) existing Louis Vuitton culture. And when analysing two important indexes: The Vogue Business Index & The Lyst Index – the decision to hire Pharrell becomes even further illuminated, in my opinion. The former, The Vogue Business Index (which measures overall business performance) listed Louis Vuitton as #1, whereas the latter, The Lyst Index (which measures popularity) listed Louis Vuitton at #15 – an interesting contrast which may explain LV's growing concerns surrounding improving the maison's brand commerciality & popularity.
But luckily for us, all bubbles eventually burst.
Most of the fashion design Greats which defined universal dress codes for the past few decades have either passed away, slowly dissipated, or abruptly left the fashion industry with their brands – and it makes sense why. Raf Simons, Vivienne Westwood, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, the list goes on and on. I feel like our golden era of uniquely talented fashion designers has definitely subsided, due to a variety of factors which are primarily driven by capitalism (i.e. social media, more collections & less breaks in-between seasons for designers) – all resulting in the pendulum swinging in favour of mediocrity.
With that being said though, I also do feel that we need to look forward and re-imagine ways in which the fashion industry can continue to exist and thrive – and weirdly enough, maybe this evident separation of the roles of Fashion Designer and Creative Director could be the start?
Only time can truly tell.