All images courtesy of Louis Vuitton

“You had a crazy idea. You bet on a black man from America. One that is untrained, but somebody you deemed worthy. You have no idea how many trajectories beside my own life — people around me, people who work together — you changed all of our lives with this one crazy decision. Tonight we don’t let you down. Tonight, we slay fucking dragons.”

So went the pep talk Pharrell Williams gave to his small team of designers hours before his debut runway show for Louis Vuitton Men’s. A video of the intimate moment was posted to Pharrell’s formerly private Instagram account, @skateboard, which he sent public four days before the show. Watching it felt kind of eerie — Virgil Abloh, who passed away suddenly in 2021, said something very similar when he was given the top job at the French fashion house. Abloh was known for his thoughtful construction of sentences, as if everything he said could, and would, be metabolised by kids just like his younger self. 

Pharrell clearly shares this sense of responsibility. The synergy between the two creatives is, obviously, no coincidence. It’s also a great place to start when talking about Pharrell’s first menswear collection for Louis Vuitton, which, in more ways than one, picked up where Abloh left off. 

Over a year passed between Abloh’s death and Pharrell’s appointment. Perhaps somewhat zealously, fashion commentators were betting on a classically trained designer, like Grace Bonner or Martine Rose, taking the job. But LVMH, Louis Vuitton’s parent company, was following a completely separate thought. The brand was no longer just a luxury fashion brand, but an international cultural powerhouse. It needed someone who could continue the momentum set in motion by Abloh. It wanted someone with outsize cultural impact to carry the torch. 

And carry the torch Pharrell did. On Tuesday night in Paris, the hip-hop producer turned streetwear designer turned pop music ubiquity turned skincare entrepreneur unveiled his highly anticipated debut collection, in front of a crowd that contained more celebrities than any other runway show in recent memory. Rihanna and Rocky, Kim Kardashian, Zendaya, Tyler, the Creator, Lewis Hamilton, Skepta, Beyonce — they were all there plus more. A$AP Ferg, Pusha-T and Dave Smith walked in the show, while Jay-Z performed after. 

It was a massive collection — 74 looks in total — many of them characterised by a pixelated version of the house’s checkerboard Damier print, a remixed motif Pharrell teased in his first campaign for the house, which featured a very pregnant Rihanna. Flashes of Pharrell’s own personal style were also evident in much of the collection; his trademark schoolboy shorts, blazers and lace up shoes were reimagined in boxy proportions and shrunken volumes. Reflecting the attitude of a dandy — a trope that fell out of fashion when #menswear arrived — Mary Jane-style buckle up shoes completed many of the preppier looks.

His more ostentatious hip-hop roots weren’t totally ignored, either. Fans of his N.E.R.D era will be pleased to know a bright blue and green leather bomber jacket and pants ensemble was giving big ‘In My Mind: The Prequel’ mixtape energy. 

The collection was eclectic by design, borrowing references from the Louis Vuitton archives, Pharrell’s own experiences and the sun — as per the show notes, the yellow dwarf star is “present throughout the collection, in the rays of graphics, the warmth of the palette, and the glistening surface decorations that gild garments and accessories.” The colour yellow, a favourite of Pharrell’s, was another starring motif. Love was also a central theme, with the designer crafting a new emblem inspired by the word itself and Louis Vuitton’s initials: LVRS. 

The creative director took his bow in front of a standing ovation, and after hugging his family — who were all dressed in matching Damoflage suits (that’s Damier and camouflage) — Pharrell quite literally switched into performer mode, dancing around as a chorus of gospel singers broke out in hymn.

In this moment, the worlds of fashion, performance, music and celebrity felt closer than they ever have before. Louis Vuitton may never be the same, and by proximity, fashion might not either. Into it or not, you can’t deny the level of excitement this brings to the world of menswear.

See more of Esquire Australia’s style coverage here.