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Pharrell Williams succeeds Virgil Abloh as the head of men's designs at Louis Vuitton

Pharrell Williams poses at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles earlier this month.
Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images
Pharrell Williams poses at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Singer, songwriter, rapper, producer, designer and philanthropist Pharrell Williams is adding another title to his list: Louis Vuitton's men's creative director.

The luxury house announced on Tuesday that Williams would take the job previously held by renowned designer Virgil Abloh, the first Black artistic director at Louis Vuitton, who died of cancer in November 2021 at the age of 41.

Williams' first collection will be revealed in June during Men's Fashion Week in Paris. But he's no stranger to the brand.

"I am glad to welcome Pharrell back home, after our collaborations in 2004 and 2008 for Louis Vuitton, as our new Men's Creative Director," said Louis Vuitton Chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari. "His creative vision beyond fashion will undoubtedly lead Louis Vuitton towards a new and very exciting chapter."

The 13-time Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominee has decades of experience working with luxury brands, according to the Associated Press and New York Times.

Williams collaborated with LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) in the early aughts on sunglasses and jewelry. The sunglasses collection, called Millionaire, remains so popular that shades are listed at more than double their original price on resale sites, and Abloh — a friend of Williams — reissued the line in 2018.

Beyond that, Williams had a popular sneaker collaboration with Chanel in 2017 (in which he became the first man to appear in a Chanel ad) and a unisex clothing collection with Karl Lagerfeld in 2019. He's also worked with Moncler, Adidas Originals and Tiffany & Company.

And he's launched his own brands, too.

Williams co-founded the influential streetwear label Billionaire Boys Club in 2003 (alongside Japanese designer Nigo, who is now the artistic director of Kenzo, which is also owned by LVMH). During the pandemic, he helped create a portable cutlery set in the hopes of limiting single-use plastics in outdoor dining. And he's also launched Humanrace, a skincare and wellness company.

"Pharrell Williams is a visionary whose creative universes expand from music to art, and to fashion — establishing himself as a cultural global icon over the past twenty years," Louis Vuitton said, adding that he reinforces the company's values of "innovation, pioneer spirit and entrepreneurship."

The style icon has big shoes to fill

Pharrell Williams performs "Happy" onstage during the Grammy Awards in 2015.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images
Getty Images
Pharrell Williams performs "Happy" onstage during the Grammy Awards in 2015.

Williams fills a position that's been vacant since Abloh's death.

Abloh rose to prominence as the creative director for the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and went on to found the haute streetwear label Off-White before joining Louis Vuitton in 2018.

He grew the role from "designer" to "curator," the AP reports, expanding his interests into things like housewares, jewelry and architecture. He broke boundaries himself as one of few Black designers leading a luxury fashion house and worked to pave the way for others after him.

"He reinvented the role of a creative director, injecting it with hip-hop's penchant for remixing, skateboarding's sense of community and a desire for social progress," Business of Fashion writes. "And he helped open doors to a wider cast of creatives, engaging directly with his followers, online and off, and offering them 'cheat codes' and 'trails of information' for how to launch brands of their own."

While many people — including big-name celebrities — cheered the news of Williams' appointment on social media, some were confused by and even critical of the decision to replace him with a celebrity rather than a younger designer with formal training.

"Everything Virgil stood for [was] to open doors," one user wrote. "This is a weird appointment."

For some, Williams' most recognizable fashion moment may have been the massive hat he wore to the 2014 Grammy Awards — or, more recently, his controversial teardrop-shaped, diamond-studded Tiffany sunglasses.

But GQ notes that he's been a style icon throughout his career, from mixing skateboarder-wear with hip-hop style as the frontman of N.E.R.D in the early 2000s to embracing womenswear and gender-neutral clothing in recent years.

That started with "the 'I can pull that off' thing," Williams told the magazine in 2019, when he posed on the cover of its "New Masculinity" issue wearing a puffy gown.

"When you listen to yourself and you're comfortable in who you are, you wear what you feel like fits and looks right on you," he added. "And that's it."

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.