Pharrell Williams: Mad hatter?

Shorts at the Oscars? Giant hat at the Grammys? The man-of-the-moment’s style is always a talking point. Wardrobe Decoder’s Katya Foreman takes a closer look.

‘i am OTHER’ is the name of US recording artist and producer Pharrell Williams’ creative media umbrella brand, spanning music, film, apparel, TV, tech and multimedia). But it could also be applied to its founder’s unique and adventurous way with his wardrobe.

This style magpie likes to express himself via his ensemble. Whether wearing a black beanie with a tux or a camouflage jacket accessorised with a tangle of rosary beads and (women’s) Chanel necklaces – he always manages to look impeccable. Few could pair a silver baseball jacket and cuffed metallic trousers with a preppy white shirt and smart black shoes and look classy, as Williams does in the video for Robin Thicke’s controversial Blurred Lines.

In an interview with Elle’s Faran Krentcil, Williams dates the flowering of his style identity to “around 1990”, prior to which he was just “doing and following”. He then linked this epiphany to his discovery of the band A Tribe Called Quest, saying it “led me to the understanding that I could be whatever I wanted to be, even if at a minimal level, it was just being different.”

“You have the best style in the world when your style is your own style,” Williams notes, explaining his personal transformation slotted into place with a certain silver Ralph Lauren Polo jacket he scrimped and saved for, funded from a summer job at McDonald’s. When asked where the jacket is today, he replied, “I don’t know where any of that stuff is. I just remember once I got that jacket, I never followed anybody again. I was just me.” Now the co-founder of two streetwear labels, Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM, Williams still cites Lauren among his main influences.

Label lover

A number of Williams’ staples and favourite labels play out in the video for his Oscar-nominated track Happy which, being shot over 24 hours, required a number of wardrobe changes – all studiously documented by GQ. There are blazers and preppy cardigans by Comme des Garçons, graphic T-shirts by American labels such as Mark McNairy New Amsterdam and Brooklyn Machine Works, and Lanvin tuxedo jackets and shirts, along with a range of Billionaire Boys Club pieces: patterned knee-length shorts, a printed tunic shirt and hoodies. Williams also loves to garnish his looks with distinctive accessories, be it Tom Ford specs or Céline shades, fedoras, eye-catching jewellery or footwear, ranging from Louis Vuitton dress shoes to skater-style Vans. (His penchant for headgear, from the trucker caps he sported in the mid-Noughties to patterned bucket hats, is now well noted.)

Williams – whose day-job includes being half of producing duo The Neptunes and the lead vocalist and drummer of N.E.R.D. – exudes good taste. During an interview with Mr Porter, he revealed he favours Turnbull & Asser for shirts, Audemars Piguet for watches and Louis Vuitton for shoes. He’s as big a fan of Spongebob Squarepants toe socks as bow ties – and it’s this confident yet playful sense of style and panache that’s had luxury fashion houses come calling. Louis Vuitton, led by then-creative director Marc Jacobs, was one of the first in line, tapping Williams to design a line of sunglasses in 2004, followed by fine jewellery line Blason, leading to his diamond coat-of-arms belt buckle in 2008. Yes, even the always-dapper Williams has been guilty of bling: his diamond-encrusted Gucci link necklace went under the hammer at the Phillips de Pury Hip Hop’s Crown Jewels sale in the same year.

Williams has also collaborated with Moncler, A Bathing Ape and Uniqlo and, as creative director of Bionic Yarn, will launch the Raw for the Oceans denim line with G-Star Raw this summer. He’s also readying his first perfume, GIRL, named after his just-released second solo album, in partnership with Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garçons. “As one of my favourite designers once said, ‘Comme des Garçons is your favourite designers’ favourite designer... The top of the top, the best of the best,’” Williams told WWD, who broke the news of his celebrity scent.

Off the wall

With Jay Z, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Snoop Dogg all on speed dial, the well-connected Williams looks to filmmakers and designers for inspiration. “I look up to Steve McQueen, I look up to Robert Redford and I think Brad Pitt is definitely earning his stripes in that world, but I’m a Lanvin fan – Alber Elbaz, Marc Jacobs, those are all my heroes,” he said in a Greg Bunkalla-directed video for W Magazine. video for W Magazine entitled Life on Neptunes: Pharrell. The accompanying feature depicts the effervescent, young-at-heart entrepreneur shuffling around his Miami penthouse in a “white T-shirt, sweatpants, and bulbous yellow Mickey Mouse slippers, his solid gold BlackBerry never far out of reach,” citing among his possessions quirky contemporary artworks by the likes of Takashi Murakami and Keith Haring, a home theatre converted into a personal video game arcade, a collection of vintage Louis Vuitton trunks and a mountain of colourful trainers.

Having worked with Takashi Murakami and French gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin, he now also rubs shoulders with the who’s who of the art world. A 2008 exhibition of furniture designed by Williams in Paris included a cheeky plastic chair whose legs resemble a man’s at the back and a woman’s at the front, her feet arched to give the impression of a couple in flagrante.

With seven Grammys under his belt, Williams – who recently joined Rihanna’s fashion reality-TV series, Styled to Rock, as mentor – is the pop equivalent of a Renaissance man, and he likes his clothes to reinforce this image. From the hooded patchwork fur coat he wore to the opening of the Moncler flagship in Paris last October (offset with leopard-print Vans), to the Lanvin tuxedo shorts he wore on the red carpet at the recent Oscars and his red tartan wedding suit, Williams likes to dress differently.

The now-notorious oversize vintage Westwood ‘Mountain’ hat he first wore at the Grammy ceremony in January – hailed by Fashionista as “the biggest fashion moment (and most instantaneous internet meme)” of the event – earned him a new nickname, Mad Hatter, drawing comparisons to a range of kooky characters from Smokey Bear to Woody from Toy Story, and got its own Twitter tribute account, @Pharrellhat, which reportedly had more than 16,000 followers the next morning.

“Pharrell Williams’ heaping helping of hat at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards turned out to be the viral equivalent of Jennifer Lawrence’s Golden Globes dress,” wrote the LA Times’Adam Tschorn. It certainly did its bit for charity, raising $44,100 when auctioned on eBay for Williams’ From One Hand To AnOTHER foundation – an educational charity for 7to20-year-olds. Not bad, considering he bought it for $200 back in 2009.

In terms of lifestyle, for this maverick creative – who lives by the motto ‘individuality is the new wealth’ – mixing incongruous elements like Hermès bags and video games is the spice of life. And, much like the art of music sampling, the snappy dresser, through his subversive pick ‘n’ mix approach to sartorial codes (be it preppy, skater, street or luxury labels), demonstrates an informed appreciation of the various style tribes but is slave to none.

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