The Pharrell Factory

Pharrell Williams and crew throw it back to the days full of boiler suits and popping—or pop art—colorways. Rob Haskell sits down with the impresario of cool.

Street Cred From left: Dilone in a Loewe dress. Jeremy Scott pants. Lineisy Montero in a Gosha Rubchinskiy x Adidas Originals top. Preen by Thornton Bregazzi dress. Janaye Furman in a Prada cardigan. Adidas Originals pants. Alton Mason in a Missoni vest. Valentino pants. Samile Bermannelli in Kenzo. Artist JR. Pharrell Williams in Raf Simons. Aya Jones (kneeling) in an Antonio Marras dress. Aiden Curtiss in a Maje dress. Imaan Hammam in a Sonia Rykiel cardigan. Fenty Puma by Rihanna pants.

Pharrell Williams may have a knack for generating groovy radio hits, but there’s a whole lot more to him than creating chart-topping tunes. The singer, producer, fashion designer, and philanthropist possesses formidable authenticity, humility (he’d rather consider himself a student than a master), and a belief that messages of love and beauty are paramount to success. His commitment to his values—across a decade-long career and dizzying stardom, no less—sets Pharrell apart from the rest. His invigorating spirit is perfectly captured in this special series of street style shots for our December issue. See Williams in confidently clashing prints and reimagined racing-inspired Comme des Garçons Homme Plus separates—proper reminders that there are all sorts of ways to stay true to your form.

Of the Wall Brightly hued separates make for an eclectic and high-spirited clothing collage. From left: Producer Mimi Valdés wears a Kolor jacket, $1,100; Barneys New York, NYC. Maison Margiela skirt, $980; Maison Margiela boutiques. On Smalls: Zadig & Voltaire sweater, $648; Fenty Puma by Rihanna bodysuit, $250; Missoni pants, $2,325; Missoni, NYC. Chanel earrings. Fred Perry bag. Kenzo socks. Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shoes. On Williams: Valentino coat, jacket, and pants. Jimmy Choo shoes.

“The truth will set you free,” a voice warns, “but first it will piss you off.” This might not sound like the opening salvo of a world-conquering Pharrell Williams record. But every era demands music that expresses its urgencies, and for Pharrell, who as a performer or producer has reeled off dizzying numbers of hits, this isn’t the time for infectious hooks.

He is not a politician. He avoids the soapbox. Love is still the message. “The only gun I shoot is love,” he tells me, giving that message its due context, on a cool autumn evening in Hollywood in the midst of the production push on albums for Justin Timberlake and Ariana Grande. Indeed, the 44-year-old singer–producer–fashion designer–philanthropist could recline deeply into a nirvana of nearly universal admiration—something like that blissed-out place imagined in “Happy,” his irresistible hit from 2013. But from today’s vantage point, “Happy” has an almost prelapsarian naïveté, and since then storm clouds have been massing in the genius’s brain. The new track he’s played me, called “Lemon,” comes from his forthcoming album with N.E.R.D, the funk-rock trio Pharrell cofounded nearly 20 years ago and to which he has returned periodically, mining the sound and the fury of his rough beginnings in the projects of Virginia Beach. (Pharrell’s childhood in those projects will also be the subject of Atlantis, his forthcoming movie musical.)

Hit Man Intensely clashing colors, prints, and textures look confident, not kitschy. Comme des Garçons Homme Plus jacket, T-shirt, and shorts. Cactus Plant Flea Market for Human Made hat.

The new album marries punk, rap, and electro, and the rawness of its sound reflects the brutal realities of its content: Consider the song “Don’t Don’t Do It,” about Keith Scott, who was fatally shot in September 2016 by a police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Imagine you come into this room right now, and there’s a pile of Legos in the shape of a house,” Pharrell says. “Then, in the middle of the song, all those same colored pieces rearrange and assemble and make . . . a rocket. That’s what this music is.”

Vintage Vibes Model Joan Smalls wears a Fenty Puma by Rihanna jacket, $500; Gucci shirt ($1,300) and skirt ($4,980); Jennifer Fisher earrings. Balenciaga bag. Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh boots. On Williams: Louis Vuitton shirt. Cactus Plant Flea Market shorts. Gentle Monster sunglasses. Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams sneakers. Balenciaga bag.

Over the years Pharrell has looked to various self-effacing metaphors to describe what it is, exactly, that he does as a hitmaker and oracle of the Zeitgeist. He’s called himself a courtroom stenographer, a straw through which to suck up a bit of divine inspiration. But today he is a mirror.

Rock Steady A throwback tracksuit is an exercise in street-savvy elegance. On Hammam: Chanel jacket ($3,150), sweatshirt ($1,250), pants ($2,350), and belt; select Chanel boutiques. L.L. Bean turtleneck, $23; Dinosaur Designs earring. Prada shoes. On Williams: Chanel jacket and pants. Richard Mille watch. Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams sneakers.

“Have you ever looked at somebody’s Instagram, looked at all those selfies, and noticed that it’s the same side every time?” he asks. “My job as a producer is to reflect back to my artists the beauty of the other side.” He smiles, sphinxlike. “I’m here to identify the dark side of the moon for you and encourage you to see that that side is beautiful, too.”

Big Wheels Make your own tracks in reworked and reimagined racing-inspired separates. On Hammam: Fenty Puma by Rihanna jacket, jumpsuit, pants, and boots. On Williams: Comme des Garçons Homme Plus jacket, T-shirt, and shorts. Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams sneakers.

Pharrell has been doing some soul-searching. For all the glamour of his pop persona, for all his indelible red-carpet moments and his fashion bona fides, lately life’s glittering surfaces have felt cold to the touch. “We’re drunk on aesthetics,” he says. “Everything is so beautiful these days, so polished, so sparkly. But what is beautiful? It’s an established standard that the people who have the power have agreed on. I want to be turned on by something. I want to be lit up by something, and not just by how something looks. What does it mean? How does it make me feel? That’s where I am right now.”

Here’s Looking at You A jumpsuit is an eminently easy—and shockingly chic—alternative to a pantsuit. From left: Montero in aGivenchy shirt. Rina Fukushi in a Chanel top. Selena Forrest in a Victor Glemaud top and Dior jumpsuit. Bermannelli in a Givenchy jumpsuit. Curtiss in a Miu Miu jumpsuit. Williams in an Ambush jumpsuit. Smalls in Miu Miu.

The 2016 presidential election was a wake-up call for Pharrell, a caustic lesson in the limitations of preaching happiness to a nation that wanted its suffering acknowledged. In January of this year, he and his wife, Helen Lasichanh, welcomed triplets, two boys and a girl. Now a father of four, shuttling his family between Los Angeles and Miami, Pharrell fears for his sons, especially, and when he contemplates a balm for the wounded world around him, there’s one word that comes to mind: inclusion. It was the message of a recent fashion campaign for his line with Adidas, which featured the Sudanese models Nyamuoch Girwath and Nykhor Paul. It’s the endpoint of his literacy-based charitable activities in Virginia Beach. It was the purpose of his recent benefit concert for Charlottesville, in the wake of white nationalist protests there.

“Black is beautiful, and right now, we are going through it,” he says. Inclusion is also the theme of this photo shoot, whose ensemble cast was curated by Pharrell himself. “I wanted to be surrounded by the culture, by all different walks of life of our culture, to get some light around me.”

As much as he is a cultural lodestar, Pharrell would rather see himself as a student than as a master. Like Andy Warhol before him, he is both fueling and gaining force from the universe of multifarious artists he attracts. And, like Warhol, he dares his audience to look underneath those polished surfaces, even if not everyone will. “I don’t want to preach to anybody,” he insists. “I just want to make my music, put out my sneakers, make everything that I can make. And I’ll hide some messages in there, if you look deep enough. That’s my job.”

Imaan Hammam (in Chanel, L.L. Bean turtleneck, Gucci turban, Dinosaur Designs earrings) and Pharrell Williams (in Chanel, Prada shirt, Richard Mille watch). To get her look, try: PhotoReady Insta-Filter Foundation in Caramel. ColorStay Exactify Liquid Liner in Intense Black. Mega Multiplier Mascara in Blackest Black. Super Lustrous Lipstick in Love That Red. All by Revlon.

In advance of N.E.R.D’s upcoming album, Pharrell opens up about how Kelis helped diversify his wardrobe and discusses his style influences, from lumberjacks to hip-hop icons like A Tribe Called Quest.

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