Aside from the sheer scale and the take-no-prisoners hoopla, the numbers themselves are impressive; 1,200 guests, some 300 metres of prime Hong Kong harbour front and thousands upon thousands of jewels and pearls to pick up the glint on the iPhone camera for the hoards of K-Pop stars and social-media influencers that will wear them. Louis Vuitton’s men’s show in the city, the second by its newly anointed creative director of menswear – American polymath Pharrell Williams – was designed to make an impact.
This is a man who knows the power of creating a “moment”; for his debut he took over the historic Pont Neuf bridge in Paris and dusted it in a constellation of the biggest superstars on the planet, including Beyoncé, Rihanna, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian. For his next trick, the city takeover was just as bombastic.
“Asia has been part of the world which has always been so supportive of my career and I wanted to honour it in some way,” said Pharrell, who cut his teeth as a record producer and rapper, collaborating with the likes of Britney Spears, Madonna, Kelis and Justin Timberlake. “I owe so much of my career to so many people on this side of the earth, and with this appointment at Louis Vuitton, nothing will change.”
The pivot to design wasn’t as incongruous as it might seem; he’s previously created clothes under his own label and collaborated with Chanel. The Hong Kong location was a choice that raised eyebrows; the city saw widespread protests in 2019 in reaction to infringements on democracy and the increasing influence of the Chinese government on the once independent state. But Asia is the biggest consumer of luxury goods worldwide, and luxury brands are filtering back into the Hong Kong region after Covid and the protests – Chanel announced an 18,000-square-feet retail space set to open next year, and Dior will stage its men’s cruise collection in the city in March 2024.
If there’s one thing Pharrell can do well, with the full might, operational skill and financing of LVMH behind him, it’s create a blow-out spectacle that doubles as a full social-media takeover. Staged on Victoria Harbour’s Avenue of the Stars, with Hong Kong’s neon-lit skyscrapers in the background and a drone display dancing overhead, the show was astounding in its scale. But what about the clothes?
“I was inspired by the idea of this guy who’s going from Hawaii to Hong Kong: he’s here on business, but he’s then in the surf vacationing in Hawaii,” said Pharrell of the tension between suiting and beachwear in the collection. What’s refreshing about Williams’s approach – and a marked departure from his predecessor Virgil Abloh, who passed away in 2021 – is that he enjoys a sense of sartorialism that’s been missing in the casual “athleisure” wear which has dominated fashion in recent years.
“There’s a real focus on the dandy, that’s what I wanted to bring to the house,” he said. That dandyism translated into the focus on suiting – not just louche, soft-fit affairs, but lean, close-to-the-torso tailoring with double-breasted jackets, traditionally more formal than single-breasted. It also parlayed rather joyously into a proliferation of decoration: suits that looked like pinstripes were actually rows of tiny, glistening pearls, others glinted with lustrous embroidery.
Pharrell’s a modern-day dandy, so the clothes were made in his image, but it was also refreshing to see suits and a focus on decoration. We might not all be in encrusted pearl suits come 2024 but, where luxury brands lead, the general mood follows. You might not be taking up a pearly ensemble anytime soon, but if the winds are blowing towards men making an effort to dress up again, that’s no bad thing.
The more camp and playful elements of the collection will keep the social media stars who descended on the event happy; sailor outfits (to nod to the historic trading port), surfer theatrics and jolly Aloha prints, some of them rendered in twinkling sequins. Well, those social media likes don’t wrack up themselves, do they?
Louis Vuitton is the absolute jewel in the LVMH crown, and in handing a global megastar over a “designer” the top job, the conglomerate’s owner Bernard Arnault sent a clear message about the role of the fashion designer in the 21st century; zeitgeist-led lightning rod for all things current and pulsing, over classically trained Central Saint Martins graduate.
It’s too early to gauge Williams’s success commercially – his first collection won’t land instore until January – but in terms of creating the kind of showmanship and presence that Arnault undoubtedly wants on a global stage, he’s already hitting that point on the job description brief. Perhaps the average man will be tempted into grandma’s pearls yet.