Pharrell Williams, a.k.a. Skateboard P, stood at the forefront of fashion for a large chunk of the 2000s, and continues to redefine what we call “drip”. Mainly known for his musical prowess, Pharrell has become a global icon breaking barriers for the generations to follow (Tyler, The Creator, Kid Cudi, Jaden Smith, A$AP Rocky) and paying homage to the people that inspired him as a kid (Curtis Mayfield, Q-Tip, Stevie Wonder, J Dilla). From BBC to Ice Cream, and his classic partnership with Adidas, Pharrell is the true definition of a trendsetter. As a result, let’s take a glimpse at his rise to fame, what he’s done in the fashion world, who he’s influenced, and why he’ll go down as one of the greatest icons of all time.
Hailing from Virginia Beach, Pharrell was born in April of 1973, which would probably surprise many because it seems like he hasn’t aged since his rise to fame. After getting his first taste of the music industry in 1992 working for Teddy Riley as a ghostwriter for the smash hit “Rump Shaker”, Pharrell and his close friend, Chad Hugo, established a production duo called the Neptunes. After years of random gigs, the Neptunes finally took the industry by storm in 1998, after producing N.O.R.E.’s summer anthem “Super Thug”, which charted at 36 on the Billboard Hot 100. The production duo went on to be the go-to producers for every act in the music business for the years to follow.
The Neptunes Top Hits(1997 -2000):
“Lookin At Me” - Ma$e
“Super Thug” - N.O.R.E.
“Got Your Money” - O.D.B. (feat. Kelis)
“Southern Hospitality” -Ludacris
In many ways, the early 2000s is where the Pharrell we know today created the brand and image we’ve become so fond of. Not only was he producing and writing for the top acts of the time, but he was also creating his own music with N.E.R.D. and slowly building his solo project In My Mind. As a man of many trades, it was only right that Pharrell would leap into the fashion scene and flourish in an industry that many Hip-Hop moguls were using their star power to take advantage of (Roca-Wear, Sean John, Wu Wear, G-Unit).
The Fashion Designer
After years of being a mainstay in the Billboard Hot 100, Pharrell began to carve his name in the fashion world in 2003 with his clothing brand Billionaire Boys Club (BBC). In partnership with Japanese icon Nigo, the creator of Bathing Ape (BAPE), Human Made, and former DJ of the Teriyaki Boyz, Pharrell officially launched BBC in 2005.
Mainly known for T-Shirts with an Astronaut’s head and multiple constellations in the background, BBC created a new wave of high-end streetwear for the millennials of the time. BBC also came with a subsidiary footwear brand called ICE CREAM, and both can be seen in the music video for Pharrell’s most famous solo song “Frontin”.
The clothes blended Pharrell’s love for streetwear and skating producing a new norm for Hip-Hop, both visually and sonically. Reminiscent of his idol Q-Tip, Pharrell was unconsciously inspiring the next generation to veer away from stereotypical Hip-Hop attire, and challenging people to be themselves. He was even named “Best Dressed Man” by Esquire in 2005.
In the 2010s, Pharrell had a great string of sneakers released under Adidas giving sneakerheads in the resale market a new shoe to track. His sneakers would sell at around and over $200 retail but flip for more than $1,000 after their release. Along with Kanye, Pharrell had one of the most talked-about sneakers during the time and definitely made a mark in the sneaker industry as well. Pharrell went on to reimagine the Stan Smith’s, made an Adidas x Chanel sneaker, and his own apparel to go along with his work at Adidas.
(PHARRELL NMD HUMAN RACE TRAIL 'FRIENDS AND FAMILY')
The success of BBC, along with his overall star power, opened doors for Pharrell that many artists (not to mention Black artists) had never had the opportunity to see:
Louis Vuitton Millionaire Sunglasses (2004)
The glasses for his 2004 collaboration with Louis Vuitton, was said to be inspired by Tony Montana and The Notorious B.I.G. With the help of fashion partner Nigo, and the approval of Marc Jacobs, this is definitely one of the most iconic and groundbreaking collaborations of the 2000s. Years later in 2018, Virgil Abloh brought back the iconic collaboration as part of one of his first collections with Louis Vuitton.
Moncler Outerwear (2009)
Mainly known for their winter coats, Moncler allowed Pharrell to design a set of “bulletproof” vests and sunglasses (the Moncler Lunettes) that were definitely eclectic and a representation of his creative capacity. Today, a collaboration like this would set the internet on fire.
Bee Line x Timberland (2014)
Taking his stab at the classic Timberland boot, Pharrell created a distinctly new design with Bee Line by Billionaire Boys Club Timbs. These easily stand out amongst a crowd of “Butters”.
The Bape Roadstas, a.k.a. Bapestas, dropped amidst the rise of Nigo’s beloved brand. Many rappers, such as Kid Cudi and A$AP Rocky, remember this collaboration making them a big fan of the Bape brand (Cudi even worked for Bape before he was signed to GOOD Music) and even more inspired by Pharrell’s creative diversity. There are not many collaborations between Pharrell and Bape, though he and Nigo have an endless catalog of work together.
Chanel x Pharrell
From a short film directed by Karl Lagerfeld featuring Pharrell and Cara Delevinge to his Chanel Adidas Sneaker, Pharrell and Chanel have a strong history of collaborations. With their most recent Chanel Pharrell Collection (2019), we’ve seen him gain more and more creative control in the house, and I personally wouldn’t be surprised if these collections continue to flourish.
One thing that should not go under the radar when speaking about Pharrell, is his influence and ability to inspire others. In a recent interview with i-D, Kanye West tells Pharrell “one of the things that you, Pharrell, inspired in me was this fearlessness to break the mold...Before I wore a pink polo you were wearing a pink polo...You broke down the doors in fashion for us...Everything looks and feels more and more like what [you] started” (i-D, The Faith In Choas Issue, 2020). If nothing shows you how much of an influence Pharrell has then let it be this quote from Kanye West. Kanye’s career was and in my opinion, still is defined by that pink polo and that Roca-fella chain that nobody believed he deserved. Today Kanye stands as one of the pioneers for what the “culture” deems fashionably acceptable, and he owes that to people like Pharrell.
Further than that, many other artists such as Tyler, The Creator, Kid Cudi, A$AP Rocky, and even Gunna give props to Skateboard P, both musically and for his taste in fashion.
Tyler, The Creator Power 106 Interview (2013):
Gunna GQ Interview (2020):
In conclusion, Pharrell’s undoubtedly one of the most influential people in pop culture. He’s constantly redefining what it means to be an icon and paving the way for the generations to follow. Personally, I believe Pharrell’s true message is to be yourself. Be as weird. Be as original. Be as bold, as you can be. This is a theme throughout Pharrell’s career, that has reached across all his business endeavors and exposed so many to alternative ways of viewing the world. This is what makes him a trendsetter.