This will probably draw the Hive’s ire but, as this fashion scribe ponders Louis Vuitton’s recent appointment of Pharrell Williams to replace the late Virgil Abloh, it’s impossible to ignore reports that Adidas is considering either revamping Beyoncé’s Ivy Park line or ending the deal altogether when the current contract expires later in 2023. This is due to a reported significant drop in sales, from $93m in 2021 down to only $40m in 2022. According to a Washington Post report, the brand lost $10m on the partnership for the 2022 fiscal year. Internal sales projections have been quite lofty at $200m.
What does any of this have to do with Pharrell Williams as men’s creative director at Louis Vuitton? Well, not much, except the obvious inclination of big brands towards big music stars. The biggest difference, of course, is that Williams will be heading up men’s wear for a heritage brand, whereas Beyoncé probably merely put her name to a lifestyle brand line. Many have pointed out that its failure can be attributed to the line offering nothing exceptional beyond her image, which is itself in sharp contrast to its streetwear aesthetic. Beyoncé is an aspirational figure, so the collaboration was doomed to fail on the lack of authenticity alone.
I’m inclined to agree, but this is no projection on whether Williams will fail at Louis Vuitton or not. In fact, I think he might succeed for a few reasons.
Williams’s image has always been synonymous with fashion. In 2003 he cofounded Billionaire Boys Club with Nigo and his appreciation of fashion is pretty obvious from his own subversive and somewhat quirky self-styling. His appointment is testimony to the effect of music on fashion and fits perfectly with Louis Vuitton’s stated vision to become a lifestyle brand, leaving behind its heritage brand legacy — or rather growing in a different direction. But whereas Virgil Abloh’s appointment has been groundbreaking, Williams’s is not. I find it particularly boring.
Again, this is not to say Williams is incapable, it’s just hard to ignore what the actual trends reveal about celebrities and staying power where fashion is concerned
Fashion has a reputation for innovation, and what I disliked most about the streetwear era of fashion is that it didn’t feel innovative at all. It seemed to me to yield much more hype than creativity (with a few exceptions, of course), churning out very samey, uninspired offerings. Did it bring more people into fashion's ever-expanding tent? Yes. Sneakerheads and hip-hop culture got more recognition in fashion, and fashion was no longer just the purview of the elite, or quirky fashion school graduates. I’m loathe to say this, but I feel like, in many ways, those who had dedicated their lives to fashion took a back seat as brands followed the money, prioritising clout over talent specifically during this quite recent era. That culture has taken hold.
That’s what this Pharrell Williams appointment feels like a great business move, but an uninteresting decision creatively. Of course, we can only wait and see what Williams will deliver. He might surprise us all.
In addition to not finding his appointment inspiring, I do think it’s a loss for tangible representation in the fashion industry in the sense that those black designers who have toiled away in the background for years are being overlooked in the interest of hype. Yes, hype pays, but it’s significantly disappointing that, as we see in many aspects of modern popular culture, talent has fast lost value as the powers that be base their decisions more and more on engagement, often far removed from talent. In many instances, we are yet to see how well this bodes for longevity.
In this sense, the drop in Beyoncé’s Ivy Park Adidas line sales speaks volumes. A celebrity may sustain a line for a season or two, but in the long run, the glow fades and reality sets in. Once the fans have long moved on to the next shiny collaboration, whether or not the line is good to begin with is the only metric that remains. Again, this is not to say Williams is incapable, it’s just hard to ignore what the actual trends — and not the TikTok variety — reveal about celebrities and staying power where fashion is concerned.