Louis Vuitton Taps Pharrell Williams as Next Menswear Designer
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Louis Vuitton Taps Pharrell Williams as Next Menswear Designer

The celebrity producer will fill Virgil Abloh’s vacant role and become creative director, the company said Tuesday

Wed, Feb 15, 2023 8:57amGrey Clock 5 min

Louis Vuitton has hired Pharrell Williams, the music producer and streetwear entrepreneur, to be its creative director of menswear, the company said.

Mr. Williams, 49, assumes the role previously held by Virgil Abloh, who died in November 2021. Mr. Abloh was the first Black American to be appointed as the head designer at a European luxury house. Mr. Williams, a native of Virginia Beach, Va., who rose to prominence in the late 1990s as a part of hip-hop production duo the Neptunes, is now the second.

The first collection of Mr. Williams’s designs will be shown this June at men’s fashion week in Paris, the company said in a statement.

“I am glad to welcome Pharrell back home,” said Pietro Beccari, Louis Vuitton’s chairman and CEO, of Mr. Williams’s early-aughts collaborations with the company. “His creative vision beyond fashion will undoubtedly lead Louis Vuitton towards a new and very exciting chapter.”

Mr. Williams and Mr. Abloh had a longstanding relationship and shared admiration for each other. In a 2017 interview with the Journal, Mr. Abloh said Mr. Williams was one of his five ideal dinner companions. When Mr. Abloh died, Mr. Williams tweeted that his heart was broken, calling his friend “a kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius.” Days after Mr. Abloh’s death, Mr. Williams sat in the front row at the Louis Vuitton show in Miami.

At Louis Vuitton, fusing heritage and hype has been a successful play on its men’s side for several years. It collaborated with cult streetwear label Supreme in 2017, and hired Mr. Abloh as its menswear designer the following year. In collections that melded dramatic, avant-garde tailoring with high-end hoodies and sneakers, Mr. Abloh both appealed to the brand’s entrenched big-money clientele and brought in a younger, splashier consumer.

Now, the crown jewel of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA looks to extend a major run of growth that has propelled LVMH to the largest stock-market valuation in Europe—and turned Bernard Arnault, the conglomerate’s chairman and CEO, into the world’s richest person, recently outdistancing Elon Musk.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Mr. Williams and LVMH were in talks early Tuesday.

While Mr. Abloh’s profile exploded over the course of his three years at Vuitton, ultimately making him one of the most recognisable fashion designers in the world, Mr. Williams would assume the position as a genuine celebrity already—one who has been a judge on “The Voice,” voiced a character in “Sing 2” and racked up two Oscar nominations, 13 Grammy awards and a bevy of number-one singles.

LVMH’s strategy of aligning with splashy, big-name creatives contrasts with the more traditional route to hiring recently taken by Kering SA, one of its largest luxury industry rivals. In late January, Gucci, Kering’s flagship brand, named Sabato de Sarno, a little-known Italian designer who previously worked at Valentino SpA, as its new creative director.

Mr. Williams, meanwhile, is best known as a music hitmaker, responsible for chart-conquering earworms like “Happy” and “Blurred Lines”—but nevertheless has a lengthy résumé as an apparel entrepreneur.

He arrives at a highflying time for Louis Vuitton. It took the fashion house 164 years to become the luxury industry’s first $10 billion brand back in 2018, but it doubled that figure in four years. Analysts say that $20 billion in revenue makes it the biggest luxury brand in the world.

Still, there are new economic headwinds for the company and the industry. Many analysts are expecting an economic softening in key markets, including the U.S. and Europe. It is also a period of change at Louis Vuitton directly. This month, Chief Executive Michael Burke and Executive Vice President Delphine Arnault, Mr. Arnault’s daughter, handed off leadership of the brand. Taking over Louis Vuitton is Italian executive Mr. Beccari, the outgoing boss at Dior.

In one of his first forays in fashion in the early 2000s, well into his career as a pop megaproducer, Mr. Williams paired with Japanese fashion icon Nigo, who is now the creative director of Kenzo, another brand under the LVMH umbrella, to found the pioneering streetwear label Billionaire Boys Club as well as a skateboarding-inspired shoe brand, Ice Cream.

A 2005 clip shows a young Mr. Williams at Ice Cream’s Tokyo store, standing beside Nigo, who he affectionately calls “the General.” “Can’t believe it man, like it’s really happening,” said Mr. Williams, staring in awe at a display case of his brand’s lavender and baby-blue sneakers.

Mr. Williams’s earlier forays were lavish and logo-mad, defined by full-zip hoodies splayed with neon-coloured dollar-sign prints, and jewel-tone shoes. Product drops would draw crowds of cool-hunting teens and 20-somethings to the brand’s shops in New York and Japan.

Three years later, in what retrospectively looks like a sign of things to come, Mr. Williams collaborated with Louis Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs on a series of jewellery designs and the blocky aviator-esque “Millionaire” sunglasses. “Vuitton for me is a school,” said Mr. Williams in a 2008 interview discussing his collaboration with Mr. Jacobs. “I’ve just learned a lot being here.” Today, pairs of those sunglasses continue to sell for over $1,000 on resale sites like Grailed.

Further collaborations followed with fashion heavyweights like Diesel, Chanel and Moncler. Mr. Williams has also worked with Adidas for nearly a decade on a co-branded line of clothes and shoes, including the sock-esque NMD Hu sneakers with New Age-y words like “Breathe,” “Clouds” and “Body” stitched along the front.

In the past few years, Mr. Williams has joined the rush of celebrities jumping in to launch skin-care products with the brand Humanrace, selling $36 “Rice Powder” cleansers and $52 “Ozone Body Protection” sunscreen.

Yet his largest impact in the fashion world is likely his own forward-looking choices in attire, even if he’s felt reticent about that role in the past. “It embarrasses me a bit to be a figure in fashion,” he told the Journal in 2014. “I think everyone is interested in what they put on, even if you dress conservatively.”

In 2015 he was awarded the Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, appearing on stage to receive the award in a blue leather jacket and worn-in jeans. “No one has better style than the everyday American people,” he said during a brief speech. “Why? Because they’re the real thing and they live it everyday. I could never be as cool as them but I’m happy to take notes.”

Most recently, Mr. Williams has been the embodiment of this moment’s boundary-free mixing of streetwear and luxury, wearing both $240 putty-print hoodies from Cactus Plant Flea Market, run by his former assistant Cynthia Lu, and diamond-encrusted Tiffany & Co. sunglasses. (Tiffany & Co. is another LVMH brand.)

Over the past decade, the broader LVMH conglomerate has increasingly collaborated with celebrities, particularly musicians. In 2019, it partnered with Rihanna on Fenty, a luxury apparel line. While that brand fizzled after just two years, LVMH remains part-owner in her Fenty Beauty line, which is booming. Nigo, Pharrell’s longtime collaborator, also moonlights as a music producer and used his debut at Kenzo to tease songs from his 2022 album “I Know Nigo!”

Spanish singer Rosalía performed in January at the Louis Vuitton menswear show, which was created by the house’s men’s design studio, and featured pieces by the New York streetwear designer KidSuper. That partnership, though buzzy, didn’t provide any clarity on the long-term future of Louis Vuitton’s menswear.

Since Mr. Abloh’s death, fervent speculation has swirled about who Louis Vuitton would name to succeed him. Among the many names said to be linked to the job were independent designers like Martine Rose and Grace Wales Bonner.


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Car Dealers on Why Some Customers Hesitate With EVs

Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch

Mon, Dec 11, 2023 4 min

Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.

When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.

“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.

With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.

Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lotsdealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.

“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”

Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.

Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.

“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.

A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.

A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”

At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.

Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.

“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.

While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.

The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.

“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.

There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.

Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.

Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.

Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”

Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”

Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.

“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.

Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.

Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.

While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.

“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.

It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.

“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.


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