The multi-talented Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams can be described as a lot of things by a lot of people: rapper, singer, producer, songwriter, entrepreneur. Most interestingly for us enamoured with footwear culture – a fashion designer. The multi-talented N.E.R.D frontman has definitely got more than a few strings to his bow. With as many as ten Grammy Awards to his name as well as long-established success in the world of clothing via his two streetwear lines; Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, which he created with NIGO (founder of BAPE).
His talent’s seemingly endless, and his versatility provides the main crux of his staying power at the upper echelons of every field he wishes to partake in. So, it will come as no surprise to any of you when Pharrell created ‘i am OTHER’. A multi-media creative collective designed to serve as an umbrella for all of his many endeavours. Long before suitors began to make eyes at him and flirt with the idea of a collaboration.
Comparison between Williams & West
Parallels can be made between Pharrell and Kanye West on a lot of levels. Their flurries in footwear have followed an almost symmetrical path. Both having found temporary homes for their designs at Nike and BAPE. Ye’s fabled Nike Air Yeezy and his Bapesta “College Dropout” shoe marked two of Kanye’s first noteworthy creations. While Pharrell also collaborated with the two brands in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Just like Ye, the natural fit for Pharrell came in the form of the three stripes of Adidas’. In 2014 he became a key member of their top tier collaborative roster. What could never have been predicted at the time, however, was precisely the influence Pharrell was about to have on the Adidas’ product line. More specifically on the NMD silhouette.
NMD Human Race
Unveiled in July 2016, the NMD Human Race – sometimes displayed as NMD hu for short, became instant validation for Adidas. Its success still echoes through the cultural landscape. So much so that the first colourway ever to be dropped for the NMD Hu, The ‘Yellow’, is now trading on the resale market for over £1250. From that debut trainer, the partnership between Pharrell and Adidas continued to flourish. The first full pack came in September of the same year. With the Hu roster being bolstered by Black, Blue, Green, Red, and Tangerine colourways.
Then a year later in November 2017, the success continued with the release of the ‘Trail’ pack. Comprised of the Multicolor, Pale Nude, Sun Glow, and of course, the most popular shade of them all, the Oreo. This release was inspired by mountain climbing. Which was accompanied by a range of colourful apparel ranging from jackets to track pants, all painted in the sneakers’ vibrant colour schemes.
BBC NMD Hu
Pharrell had already proven his worth to the powers that be at Adidas. His catalogue was only ever destined to develop further. He achieved this by enlisting the assistance of his streetwear label Billionaire Boys Club. To create another adaptation of the NMD silhouette. Dubbed Cotton Candy, the BBC NMD Hu was adorned with “CUERPO TERRE” on the vamps. Which literally translated to ‘EARTH’ and ‘BODY’. This Nomad became the most limited Human Race of the time… until a few days later when it was knocked off its perch by an even more coveted addition to the Pharrell trainer portfolio.
Chanel Human Race
To celebrate the legacy of Colette. Pharrell teamed up with French luxury fashion house Chanel for a collaborative NMD Hu that would capture the world’s attention. Available from just one store, The Chanel Human Race retailed at £1,000 and was limited to only five hundred pairs globally. Of course, the coveted shoe sold out instantaneously, and the market value shot up to £10,000 immediately. Making it the most expensive NMD Hu ever made.
Pharrell Williams ability to transcend streetwear and luxury fashion worlds and cross-pollinate the two put him amongst the very best, after all, Kanye West had begun with Louis Vuitton, and Virgil Abloh would eventually go on to land a coveted position also with Vuitton. Pharrell’s footwear lineage heavily focuses on influences from cultures from around the world and also used his position of privilege to promote celebrations of earth, equality, and humanity, and this was made all the more evident in what came next for Pharrell.
First releasing the ‘Holi’ pack in February 2018 a homage to the Hindu festival of Holi – a tradition when good vibes and bright colours literally overpower the physical plane. Then moving his focus from India to East Asia for his ‘China Exclusive’ pack, and then ‘SOLARHU’ for East Africa. What has made Pharrell’s work with the NMD so iconic across all his designs is the attention to detail, focus on a theme, and respect for his source material, you can tell Pharrell is an advocate for all he preaches – mutual respect, equality, and a love for all cultures.
Pharrell x NMD
Pharrell has long established himself as one of the most influential collaborators Adidas’ has been fortunate enough to work with, and its a testament to his designs that the NMD has become synonymous with Pharrell. His work has been admired from afar by many, and a brief association with Chanel definitely open his eyes to a whole other world of possibility, but it is only now his potential is beginning to be truly realised. In 2018 it was announced Pharrell Williams would once again be collaborating with the fashion house, but this time without the stabilisers Adidas provided, the Instagram caption for the official capsule read “Hard to believe this all started with writing it on my shoes in 2010.”
Influence on footwear culture
No one can argue that Pharrell hasn’t made it to the pinnacle of fashion, and there is something to be noted that he has done so via Adidas. Using their platform as a stepping stone to elevate themselves beyond what would first be possible, a path carved out by Virgil Abloh, where the success of his Nike collaboration ultimately led to him being hired by Louis Vuitton. Whether or not this is a tactical move before the fact is something I’d struggle to debate, but what is clear, is that the footwear world, more specifically Nike and Adidas, is an excellent proving ground for some of the world’s best designers, and if you can succeed there, you can succeed anywhere.
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