Pharrell Williams’ debut collection for Louis Vuitton was perhaps nothing short of a pop-culture phenomenon. Was it nearly as risqué as the more recent John Galliano for Maison Margiela that’s gotten everybody talking now, or even the Daniel Roseberry for Schiaparelli couture show before that?
But hey, celebrity creative hirings – a practice that the likes of Bernard Arnault of LVMH and François-Henri Pinault of Kering have practically perfected over the years – aren’t meant to take design risks. They’re meant to sell. And sell they will.
There remains no doubt, therefore, that as Paris saw its historic Pont Neuf sealed off to the masses and ostentatiously gilded end-to-end in gold foil in anticipation of the singer, songwriter, and record producer’s hard-launch into haute fashion, the ulterior motive in mind was almost certainly that of profit.
And for a show of such star-studded megawattage, pretty much all of the standard bells and whistles we’d expected were present: exotics, bright palettes, chunky hardware, and a nod to all things Y2K. Pharrell’s net is as wide as it gets.
What was more puzzling, however, was denim – lots and lots of denim.
It almost makes you wonder, for a house that’s quite possibly Europe’s most valuable luxury brand, if this somewhat unlikely (some might even say unpopular) seasonal fabrication evolved into a full-fledged fashion mainstay.
One For the History Books
The tale of denim ranks pretty high among fashion’s countless folk fables of rags-turned-riches.
Having originally been devised as working-class uniforms for miners in the French city of Nimes, their widespread acceptance into the realm of fashion came forth thanks to the likes of not only a certain Mr. Levi Strauss but also owing to celebs like Marlon Brando and James Dean, who styled them into their films.
It was, however, the Y2K when it truly enjoyed fashion stardom: who hasn’t seen (and is continually traumatized by) the tabloid shots of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake in matching head-to-toe denim outfits at the 2001 AMAs?
But even in the era of fake blonde hair, bubblegum lip-gloss, and low-slung jeans, the denim bag was the ultimate proclamation of savvy style, courtesy of, of course, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton.
In fact, across his 16 years of boundary-bending tenure that infused pop culture, art, fashion, and commerce, Jacobs’ Spring/Summer 2005 lineup remains one of the most memorable, featuring, alongside an array of kitschy Murakami cherry prints, the Baggy – the literal manifestation of a baggy pair of jeans in purse-form.
Hot on the heels of the Baggy came the Cabby, the Neo Cabby, the Pleaty, and the limited-edition denim Speedy, later made available in more colorways like lichen-green and fuchsia in addition to the signature stonewashed blue.
Needless to say, the crowds were crazy for them all.
New Masthead, New Direction?
Nearly twenty years on, it’s seemingly that magic of the noughties’ cool-girl chic that Pharrell has been trying to recapture with the rather generous distribution of denim within his debut lineup and every subsequent collection since.
And it’s not an entirely unfounded sentiment. Growing up in the Y2K, you constantly wanted and dreamed of owning a Vuitton denim one day, or at least one of its contemporary (or sometimes upcycled old jeans) counterparts. As a commercial brand, that’s bankable customer loyalty right there.
And with fans intently scouring the resale webosphere for pieces in good condition, it makes sense to reissue these vintage styles. This, therefore, has culminated most recently in the form of the LV Remix – a spring/summer archival capsule that revives not just the Monogram Denim but also Vernis, just in time for the material’s seasonal uptick of sales ahead of the warmer temps.
But Pharrell has taken the denim obsession one step further, inculcating the texture into every show (sometimes at the risk of running resemblances with fellow designers). This includes a trendy new rendition of the Speedy in Damier Denim with distressed vachetta trimmings and follows in the footsteps of his design predecessors, Virgil Abloh and DJ Nigo, whose LV2 collaboration pieces had brought denim into the zeitgeist long before we could’ve predicted it.
Yet Another Publicity Push?
In fact, as isolated as Pharrell’s obsession with denim at Louis Vuitton may seem, the material has been far more integral to the brand than we’d like to think, traditionally commanding top-of-the-line prices both over the primary and secondary markets (this vintage backpack is listed on 1stdibs for nearly $16,000!)
Rather, Pharrell’s foray into the experimental world of Louis Vuitton denim is part of a much broader and continual injection of the fabric into the Maison’s DNA.
Consequently, it’s been reimagined in various styles and colorways over the years, including, but not limited to, pint-sized Micro-Speedys, patchwork Neverfulls, Jacquard Side Trunks, Since 1854 OnTheGos, trendy Croissants, Loop bags, Capucines, Dauphines, Vanity cases, and more – as well as special edition Chinese Lunar New Year capsules – each to varying degrees of success.
Unlike Jacobs’ original creations that, two decades into their inception, remain hardy workhorses, however, these newer renditions continue to posit uncertainties in the minds of the buyer as to their apparent longevity, or, for that matter, staying power.
Hence, at the end of the day, denim, to a large extent, occupies novelty territory, limited largely to a fairly affluent clientele, for whom its highly specific, ultra-casual aesthetic and even higher price-point pose no real dangers, one of the reasons why you don’t really see it out in the wild all that often.
Whether Pharrell’s current creations in denim for Vuitton can thrive on the cultural pulse like those of Jacobs remains a question for the future. Until then, all we can do is rationalize and justify dropping exorbitant sums of money on non-leather goods with questionable durabilities, à la the Denim Club.
But then again, isn’t that what we do best?