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Pharrell Williams stages Louis Vuitton debut on Pont Neuf

Designer Pharrell Williams appears at the end of his Menswear ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2024 collection show for fashion house Louis Vuitton, on the Pont Neuf bridge, during Men's Fashion Week in Paris, France, June 20, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
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PARIS, (Reuters) – For his debut collection at Louis Vuitton, Pharrell Williams drew his global audience to the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris, kicking off his tenure as creative director of menswear with a celebrity-packed outdoor show.

In a show that further anchored the LVMH-owned label in popular culture, models strode across the gold-painted runway to live music. They paraded pearl-embellished tracksuits, furry outerwear and sparkling jackets with the label’s signature checkmark pattern, in all colours and sizes, including shades of camouflage.

Crowds gathered along the Seine River, craning for a glimpse of the looks, which continued LV’s approach of mixing street style with luxury.

“I’m the second Black man to ever experience this on the planet, the biggest fashion house in the world,” Williams said in an interview before the show, referring to his job since February.

Best known as the singer and writer of pop hits “Happy” and “Blurred Lines”, the 50-year-old Williams ended months of speculation by filling the shoes of his friend Virgil Abloh, who held the job from March 2018 until his death in November 2021. Abloh had been the industry’s highest-profile Black designer, credited with forging a place for street style and loose skateboard looks in high-end fashion.

“My brother Virgil was the first. He made so many strides for the house and did so many things. He brought skate culture into this world – while being an American Black man. It’s unreal the fact that I get to do this as well,” said Williams.

LVMH Chairman and Chief Executive Bernard Arnault and his family, whom Williams has known for years, have been “extremely supportive” in his new role, Williams said.

Williams was first introduced to the Arnault clan in a collaboration to design sunglasses with Louis Vuitton designer Marc Jacobs in 2004.

Arnault and his children, all of whom hold important positions in LVMH, were seated in the front row, as well as Beyonce, Jay-Z and Kim Kardashian.

“The idea was to instill the idea that Louis Vuitton is also the master of tailoring of a dandy man who wants to be somewhat more elegant,” Vuitton CEO Pietro Beccari said of his brief to Williams.

“That was not difficult because that’s him. … What you see on the catwalk is Pharrell, multiplied by 70 looks.”

“The significance in terms of symbolism is great,” said HSBC analyst Erwan Rambourg, noting that while many labels talk about diversity and inclusion, Williams’ appointment was “taking a stance.”

Robert Schramm-Fuchs, portfolio manager at Janus Henderson, an LVMH shareholder, said the group’s push into the cultural realm could help broaden the luxury brand’s appeal.

Given the large size of LVMH, the sheer number of new customers it must attract to move the needle is much higher than for smaller brands, Schramm-Fuchs said.

“If you bring in lifestyle and things like that, you have to be careful to keep it inclusive and not alienate existing customer groups,” he added. “That’s the challenge, and for now they are managing it very well.”