For most people today, travel is a luxury. For the original cowboys of the American West, it was a necessity.
Pharrell Williams explored the crossroads between the two with his third menswear collection for Louis Vuitton, which riffed on upscale takes on workwear staples, including a collaboration with Timberland that he teased over the weekend to build buzz around the show, following his spectacular star-studded debut last season.
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Guests including Bradley Cooper, Jackson Wang and K-pop band Riize made the journey out to the Fondation Louis Vuitton on the outskirts of Paris, an adventure that involved trekking in dark woods and squeezing through a narrow gap in a security barrier for those forced to abandon their cars in the traffic logjam.
At the show venue, a tent with wraparound projections of a canyon vista, guests were welcomed with the kind of soft rock tunes you might expect to hear in a bar in Winnipeg in the ‘70s (Bachmann-Turner Overdrive, anyone?). As the first model strode out in a fringed white coat and jeans, clutching a turquoise Speedy bag, Native American voices filled the air.
What followed at times strayed dangerously close to Ralph Lauren territory.
After planting his brand codes last season, including a big push on the Speedy and a new pixelated pattern dubbed Damoflage, Williams set about exploring the seemingly endless capabilities of the Vuitton ateliers with Western-inflected pieces that were showcases for high-end craftsmanship.
Think embossed leather jackets and chaps; suede suits with turquoise jewel buttons; denim with pearl and sequin floral embroideries, or a leather coat studded with a Damier check pattern.
The details extended to the accessories, which included cowhide Speedys and weathered Steamers that looked like they were fresh off a stagecoach; cowboy hats trimmed with buckled bands, and Stetson boots made with Texan manufacturer Goodyear and finished at Vuitton’s Rochambeau Ranch factory, inaugurated in 2019 by then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
Among his cast of characters were the outlaw in his fox fur chubby, the dandy in his tailored black coat, and the cowhand in buffalo plaid shirt and fringed jeans, a rolled blanket tucked under one arm. But Williams was at pains to avoid any good-guy-bad-guy scenarios, offering an inclusive vision of the Wild Wild West.
Speaking with guests after the show, he said he was conscious of the risk of being misunderstood, which was why he invited artists from the Dakota and Lakota nations, working under the creative direction of Dee Jay Two Bears of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, to work on some of the accessories.
The show was bookended with a performance by the Native Voices of Resistance, a group comprised of singers from Native American nations across North America.
“I felt like when you see cowboys portrayed, you see only a few versions. You never really get to see what some of the original cowboys really look like. They look like us, they look like me. They look Black, they look Native American,” Williams explained backstage.
“Telling your story and telling your people’s story as best you can, and doing it candidly and with love, that’s an overwhelming feeling to kind of pull it off, and it felt like we did — like the feeling in the room just felt like a whole lot of love. And that’s what the goal was, and I thank God that we got a chance to do that,” he added.
Vuitton might yet face some blowback over the use of Indigenous culture in a commercial setting. It was not too long ago that fellow LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton brand Dior was forced to pull an ad for its bestselling Sauvage fragrance that featured a Native American dancer, following a social media outcry.
So why run the risk? “It’s a world class luxury travelers’ brand: that’s what we’re all about,” Williams said. “One of the things that I’m supposed to do is to take the house to places and tell stories and give a platform to the different destinations that we go to and how they inspire us.”
That suggests Williams will continue to rely on themes to carry his collections. Yet this one felt most authentic when referencing his personal style, via workwear-inspired items like Carhartt-style carpenter jeans, beefy nubuck jackets, distressed denim and orange worker vests, as well as the Timberland boots that have been embraced by the hip-hop community.
“Workwear has always been important to folks in the rap community and our demographic because a lot of times life is cold, and life can be rough and life can be hard, and when you’re enduring all these types of conditions, you want something that’s gonna wear and last,” he said.
“And Timberland, it just makes sense. It’s something that we love, but at the same time, whether you’re, like, in the ‘hood or you’re like somewhere in a factory, Timberlands, they last long,” he continued. “If you’re going to spend your disposable income at a time like this, it needs to be for something that’s actually really going to last.”
Of course, the Vuitton versions are unlikely to end up on a factory floor, especially the silky smooth monogram-embossed nubuck boots. But the limited-edition full monogram version, made of leather with 18-karat gold hardware and carried in its own trunk, will surely be a sound investment. With only 50 pairs rumored to hit the market, expect another gold rush.
Launch Gallery: Louis Vuitton Men's Fall 2024
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