The American R&B star brings celebrity shine to the French Fashion House. But it’s his skills as a producer that could make the biggest impact.   

Pharrell Williams is a fascinating choice as the creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.

This is because Williams brings established superstar status, and because of what Vuitton’s (year-long) decision reveals about the luxury fashion industry and its own place at its helm.

Williams may ultimately prove no more than a creative pawn in a more significant shift in fashion, but don’t underestimate the 49-year-old Virginian.

Creator and Shaper

Whether grooving on Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, collaborating on Halsey/Timberlake release Stay With Me,  or lifting the world’s mood on  ‘Happy‘ he has become a ubiquitous pop cultural presence in an age when such stars are central to fashion’s reach beyond the catwalk and shop.  

But as a front-and-center artist, he lacks the voice to carry interesting verses and chorus into anthemic territory (a fault that could also be labeled at The Weeknd) or the thematic risk-taking that makes Frank Ocean a more transgressive male RnB voice.

No worries, it’s his abilities as a music producer (and thus businessmen) where his major strength lies, and which makes him such a (potentially) good choice at the French label.

Gold star Producer and Influencer

As a producer, Williams has shown an adeptness at avoiding the kind of slick over-sheen of producers like Mark Ronson or Calvin Harris, whilst also steering clear of the rabbit hole explorations of Danger Mouse or MadLib.

For artists like Britney, Kelis and Ariana he’s an adept singles man, creating the kind of platinum-level agitating hits that break the internet in the post-album era. Skills that align most closely with Louis Vuitton’s needs in reaching moneyed Gen Z and Gen A consumers.

The role of a fashion designer (nobody is expecting Williams to do what Iris van Herpen does) is about the ability to ideate and manage behind-the-scenes and front-of-stage expectations.

Instant Impact

Sure, modern designers need to focus on sustainability, technology, diversity, and inclusion too. But Abloh’s creations (like Jeremy Scott’s and Alessandro Michele’s) were judged on instant impact and sales, and responsiveness to rapidly changing trends.

There will be no concession that Abloh segued into the role at Vuitton following five years at OffWhite.  He’ll be expected to master the cultural conversation and shifting customer expectations, as he does as a music producer, avoiding the kind of negative press that fellow musician Kanye West garnered. A more progressive stance on inclusivity will also go some way to allaying criticisms of underlying misogyny in the infamous Blurred Lines video and lyrics, and in 2017’s GIRL album.

June Showdown  

So LVPW makes baffling sense – The fashion brand’s desire to stay ahead of the game and its floundering rivals, Kering. Williams’ status as a mainstream pop star and top-tier producer and influencer. Vuitton‘s  June show at Paris Fashion Week will bring the kind of excitement to the runway not seen since Tom Ford’s heyday. No pressure then. 

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