Pharrell brings gospel party to Paris with fashion debut

Musician-turned-designer Pharrell Williams took over the oldest bridge in Paris, packed it with celebrities and turned it into a pumping gospel nightclub as he made his historic debut for Louis Vuitton on Tuesday.

Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay-Z, LeBron James and Zendaya were among the many stars lined up along the Pont Neuf in central Paris, which had a golden carpet rolled along its entire length.

The multi-faceted artist told AFP before the show that he was conscious of the traumatic history behind the current dominance of black culture that has allowed him to take over at the world’s most lucrative fashion label.

“We wish that our culture and our people didn’t have to suffer so hard in order to get us here,” said Williams ahead of his debut as menswear director for Louis Vuitton.

“It’s not lost on me that a lot of people died, a lot of people lost their lives and suffered… to get us to these positions.”

The show itself played it fairly safe, drawing on Louis Vuitton’s familiar check patterns and leather work, adding in some pixelated patterns and some military-style camouflage.

The classic bags came out in primary colours and a couple of souped-up karts even made their way down the catwalk carrying piles of classic Vuitton luggage.

The soundtrack made its way from stately classical music to full-blown gospel disco.

And there was a special treat for guests and people leaning out of windows along the Seine when Jay-Z gave a concert on the bridge at the end of the night, with a cameo by Pharrell himself.

– ‘Waking up’ –
Williams is the second successive black American to take over menswear for Louis Vuitton — a sign of how hip-hop culture has come to dominate global fashion.

He spoke to AFP as the final preparations were being made for the show, which saw a whole stretch of the riverbank cordoned off.

“I think these corporations are waking up, slowly but surely, I think they’re understanding that we have flavour and that we have something really interesting to offer,” Williams said.

“Historically and factually, it’s been whitewashed (but) while that’s been tough on us historically, it’s kind of made it easy when it comes to taste because we bring such a striking juxtaposition.

“It’s striking when you see LeBron James wearing something, when you hear Jay-Z’s lyrics, when you see and hear Beyonce, the energy and voice.”

– Virgil’s energy –
Williams, 50, also spoke about his predecessor Virgil Abloh, a former Kanye West collaborator who breathed new life into Louis Vuitton with his hip-hop-infused style, but died tragically young from cancer in 2021.

“I collaborated with him on a couple of things,” said Williams. “Spiritually, his energy is very much still here.”

Many labels have moved away from the big-name designers of the past like Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld, preferring more discreet professionals.

But Louis Vuitton, which made more than 20 billion euros ($22 billion) in revenue last year, is going the other way, putting a full-blown celebrity in charge.

It follows its last show in January when a performance by Spanish pop superstar Rosalia was almost more of a focus than the clothes on the runway.

It is “consistent with LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault’s idea that Louis Vuitton does not sell handbags but sells culture”, said bank HSBC in a briefing note.

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© Agence France-Presse

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