Paris Fashion Week looks to future with Pharrell Williams debut

The debut of multi-talented star Pharrell Williams at Louis Vuitton is the hottest ticket at Paris Fashion Week as it kicks off on Tuesday, seen as a significant moment in the evolution of the multi-billion-dollar industry.

The renowned musician, DJ and producer takes over as artistic director for the fabled French brand, hoping to build on the shift towards US streetwear that helped it achieve more than 20 billion euros ($22 billion) in revenue for the first time last year.

Williams offered a teaser on social media, sharing a photo of himself in front of the Orsay Museum featuring a giant billboard of singer Rihanna, heavily pregnant and sporting some colourful LV bags.

“It’s unprecedented for a label at this level — a designer arriving with a first menswear campaign that features a woman… He is giving us an early taste,” said Pierre Alexandre M’Pele, editor of GQ France.

The 50-year-old faces a major challenge filling the shoes of Virgil Abloh, the former Kanye West sidekick who breathed new streetwear-infused life into Louis Vuitton prior to his tragically early death from cancer in 2021.

But Williams has long been a red carpet sensation, known for daring outfits that go far beyond the usual hip-hop stylings, and a string of collaborations with Chanel, Moncler and Tiffany — as well as Louis Vuitton.

“Williams has been living in hip-hop, and looking into the future, for more than 20 years, a valuable perspective for a luxury men’s wear world that has already absorbed hip-hop and is hoping to divine what might come next,” the New York Times wrote after his appointment.

– ‘Much more creative’ –
Williams’s arrival comes at a time when men’s fashion feels like the more exciting side of the industry.

“Men’s fashion took years to find fertile ground for evolution, but it’s now doing so more visibly than womenswear,” said fashion consultant Pascaline Wilhelm.

“The way gender, masculinity and femininity are being called into question at the moment allows it to be much more creative without falling into caricature,” she added.

One of the newcomers making a mark is Burc Akyol, a French-Turkish designer who is joining the official fashion week for the first time, showing just before Williams on Tuesday.

His label, formed in 2018 after apprenticeships with Dior and Balenciaga, has already attracted the support of Cate Blanchett and Cardi B with his elegant, non-gendered style.

“There are several talents in Paris who are following this idea of non-gendered fashion. Or at least, the clothes are not gendered,” said M’Pelé.

Not that this should be seen as entirely a modern phenomenon, he added. “Several centuries ago, men wore dresses and high heels.”

One big name that is not returning this week is Saint Laurent.

Its artistic director Anthony Vaccarello made a surprise appearance at the last menswear week in Paris for the first time, but has preferred to stay away from the big fashion showcases and give one-off shows in places like Berlin, Malibu and Venice.

Celine’s designer Hedi Slimane, considered one of the most influential names in menswear, also likes to follow his own rhythm, and is holding his next Paris catwalk show a couple of weeks after everyone else on July 3.

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