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

By JACOB GALLAGHER
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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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

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This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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