Louis Virginian: Pharrell debuts at Vuitton with Minecraft mode
Never in the history of fashion has there been such security at a catwalk show, with packs of heavies surrounding the likes of Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell, Lewis Hamilton, Lebron James, Willow and Jaden Smith, Zendaya, Anitta, footballers Marco Verratti and Paul Pogba. And Kim Kardashian – in a Lara Croft-meets-Minecraft pixelation combination.
Beside the lord of luxury and Ender Dragon, Bernard Arnault, sat Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who performed with Pharrell post-show on a stage beneath Cheval Blanc, the LVMH luxury hotel, from whose balconies scores watched.
Among European editors and critics there had been much speculation on whether a rock star and producer like Williams could have the design chops to pull off a major collection for a giant Paris maison. Well, the jury is already in. This was a major catwalk hit and will be a hit commercially at retail.
Almost as a homage to his new profession, Pharrell had designers on the runway – from the great Stefano Pilati to Public School’s Dao-Yi Chao. While in the front-row sat colleagues Jeremy Scott, Jonathan Anderson, Francesco Ragazzi, Nigo, and his stablemate Vuitton’s women’s designer, Nicolas Ghesquière.
Pharrell opened and closed with some really great tailoring – from a putty-hued suit worn with shorts to a final matinee idol crooner double-breasted tuxedo that hung perfectly. This might sound like a backhanded compliment but they could all stack up against Italian master tailors like Armani or Ferré.
Otherwise, Pharrell kept going back and forth between his discoveries in Vuitton and his youth in Virginia. At one point even showing a varsity jacket from his high school Princess Anne but converting the PA insignia with a French diamanté version.
Williams’ big idea was pixelation, though he referred to the technique as “damier meet camo.” Seen in the wellington’s worn with the opening suit, a three-button Pierre Cardin lapel-free sixties jacket, hooded parkas, or all sorts of backpacks and suitcases like the half dozen that were driven down the runway on a golf buggy.
Matter of fact, Pharrell even took his very long bow in a pixelated suit, embracing his wife and three children, and bowing in gratitude to Arnault, and his design team whom her generously invited onto the bridge to share the applause.
Since signing with Vuitton in February, Pharrell has moved to Paris and by all accounts often puts in 12-hour shifts in his studio – also located above Pont Neuf. Make that studios – since he has a design and sound studio together. His hard work was apparent in all sorts of great looks: yellow, russet, sea-blue and damier prints cut into leather playboy suits, spy trenches, power dusters and rude boy silk suits.
All backed up by a sensational soundtrack composed by the 13-time Grammy winner. Played with gusto by a 40-piece orchestra and the great pianist Lang Lang. Before a 70-piece gospel choir joined the action for the finale. Named Voices of Fire, the choir is led by Bishop Ezekiel Williams, Pharrell's uncle.
The audience of 1,400 seated on three rows of golden blocks, on the sidewalk of the yellow brick of Pont Neuf, gave it all a thunderous applause.
“The Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2024 men’s collection orbits the sun as a focal point for opportunity, responsibility and enhancement,” Pharrell opined in his program notes. These were contained inside a gold envelope which also boasted a metallic gold poncho, in the event of the downpours which have hit Paris these past few days.
All told, a memorably mega example of luxury brand storytelling, culturally connecting, and exuberant inclusiveness. And a hit show. But was this truly a great collection? Perhaps not. Great fashion only comes when a designer creates something truly new, and not just assembles disparate existing elements into a novel new jigsaw. In a word, for a collection to be truly great, a designer must invent something striking and beautiful that one could not have imagined existing before.
Pharrell still has work to do.
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