Sunset on the Seine is for lovers, but on Tuesday, the magic hour was the backdrop for a spectacular show marking the beginning of the Pharrell Williams era at Louis Vuitton.
For his first outing as creative director of menswear at the world’s biggest luxury brand, the musician pulled out all the stops, inviting friends including Beyoncé, making a pit stop before the Hamburg leg of her “Renaissance World Tour”; newly minted Vuitton brand ambassador Zendaya, and Rihanna, who starred in a teaser campaign for the men’s show and arrived as the event was in full swing.
Among the dozens of celebrities in attendance were Pusha T, Timbaland, J Balvin, Anitta, Jared Leto, Kim Kardashian and Lenny Kravitz, justifying the hype leading up to the season’s most hotly anticipated show.
In line with the label’s recent runway outings, it was a multipronged evening of entertainment, culminating with a live performance by Jay-Z, who was joined by Williams onstage.
Guests arrived by boat to the French capital’s oldest bridge, which was decked out in a giant gold Damier pattern, signaling one of the key themes in a collection anchored in the historic codes of the brand.
In a preview with WWD, Williams said the location, at the foot of Vuitton’s Paris headquarters, was “a very clear demonstration of love and warmth, well-being and also welcomeness” — a sentiment underscored by Voices of Fire, the gospel choir he recruited via a 2020 Netflix series, who delivered the performance of a lifetime.
The song they unleashed, “Joy (Unspeakable),” was released on streaming platforms last Friday, illustrating how Williams is able to generate synergies from his multiple activities, ranging from film and television to music festivals and nonprofits, in addition to his own brands such as the skin care line Humanrace.
The setting of the show, which at times recalled a bombastic music video, also reflected the might of parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which owns the neighboring Cheval Blanc hotel and Samaritaine department store, and essentially shut down the entire neighborhood (there was even talk Michelle and Barack Obama would be there; they weren’t).
With so much to take in, it was hard to focus on the clothes.
Ever the multitasker, Williams had teased the collection at his Something in the Water music festival in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, in April. The LVers emblem that appeared on merchandise is a twist on the state’s slogan, “Virginia Is for Lovers,” and was repeated here as a graphic and embellishment.
But the main story was the Damier pattern. Williams has seen the future, and it’s pixelated.
“With the Damier, naturally, it presents like a chessboard, and so we use the squares of the chessboard as a sense of, like, pixelation, and we did everything from artistic motifs to one that I’m very proud of, which is Damoflage,” he said, referring to a motif splicing the heritage pattern with camouflage.
“I’m super proud of it because of the way that it animates on all of the apparel and the footwear, and even in the trunks,” he added. “And this is going to be something that will come back. It’ll be seasonal in different expressions.”
Williams teamed up with the U.S. pixel artist known as E.T. on a digitalized version of the motif, while the works of another American artist, Henry Taylor, featured as micro-embroideries on everything from denim to accessories.
The pixelated patterns appeared on items including shorts suits worn with wader boots; workwear jackets with multiple pockets; a tapestry jacket, and an oversize fur shawl. Coats featured a blown-up version of the classic Damier pattern, zinged up in yellow and black, or a graphic herringbone blanket motif.
Channeling his genderfluid allure, Williams covered the full gamut of the men’s wardrobe, from checkerboard-patterned denim to a luxe cream evening jacket. There were blinged-up suits with photo prints of the Pont Neuf, and a chubby coat with a shaved monogram motif that might appeal to guests like Maluma, who showed up with a giant diamond chain with an articulated dog pendant.
Williams was also keen to “put my feet and make tracks” with his handbags, citing past projects like the oversize purple Haut à courroies bag he commissioned from Hermès, and his stint as ambassador for Chanel’s Gabrielle bag.
His versions of the monogram Speedy bag in primary colors were inspired by the counterfeit versions sold on New York City’s Canal Street, but he made them in calf leather instead of canvas. He also revived the metallic Monogram Miroir bags introduced by Marc Jacobs in the mid-2000s.
“We have a lot of gems that are just there, we got a lot of low hanging fruit and I intend to use all that make sense,” he said.
In the run-up to the show, Williams was careful to acknowledge that not everyone is thrilled by his appointment, which cements Vuitton’s positioning as a “cultural” brand with broad reach across segments including sports, gaming, music and art.
Some commentators were disappointed that the job didn’t go to one of the young designers rumored to be in the running, even though his predecessor Virgil Abloh also came from a non-fashion background, redefining the role of creative director into something closer to a curator.
“Kings rule in positions, right? I’m not that. What I am is a pupil, and I accepted it, this appointment, by saying, you know, I’m going to continue to be me. I’m going to continue to learn and with every collection, you’re going to see me sharing my learnings with the world,” he said.
“And my team helps to contextualize, lift, elevate, enrichen and even enlighten a concept to just epic proportion. I’m always going to continue to talk about my team because they’re the best. If you see me and it looks like I’m floating, it’s them lifting me,” he said.
As he came out to take his bow, he wiped away tears and lifted a finger to the sky in thanks as the crowd rose in a standing ovation, conscious that he had poured every ounce of his creativity and star power into the show. The air was electric, and his team marched out right behind him.