Let’s face it. Fashion collaborations have become a bit watered down in recent years. What once felt like a unique opportunity for two brands to merge their worlds into something special has largely boiled down to companies deciding which logo being placed next to theirs will generate the most dollars. But not every collaboration falls into that category. That’s especially true for anything Pharrell decides to put his name on.
“Collaboration is always an opportunity to learn something else,” he tells Complex. “It’s not worth doing if it’s not on the precipice of burning everything around it.”
This is the mindset that allows Pharrell to execute his projects at such a high level. Being revered as one of the most respected creators of the 21st century, he’s dabbled in many projects including producing an ongoing series of footwear and apparel with Adidas since 2014, and pairing his Billionaire Boys Club brand with designers like Vandy. He even had the opportunity to design a capsule with Chanel back in 2019. For his latest collaborative partnership, Pharrell was one of the seven designers tapped by Moncler to create his interpretation of the brand’s signature Maya puffer jacket, dubbed the Maya 70, to help celebrate its 70th anniversary. He joins an esteemed list of collaborators that includes Palm Angels, Fragment, Rick Owens, Giambattista Valli, Pierpaolo Piccioli, and Thom Browne.
The Moncler Maya 70 by Pharrell Williams is the final launch in the seven-part series. It sets itself apart with a rubberized black body covered with tonal Moncler logos. It will release at Moncler stores on Nov. 26, but the collaboration wasn’t strictly about creating a product to sell on a rack. Pharrell also handpicked who would model the limited design. According to him, Tobe Nwigwe embodies the resiliency he aimed to represent with the rubber Maya 70. “I feel like he’s just a trailblazer in terms of doing things that make sense for him and his archetype,” says Pharrell. “He has a super strong sound. I just felt like him with that black rubber winter jacket, the resilience in everything that he does and the resilience that the concept represented, just was a natural fit.”
This isn’t Pharrell’s first time working with Moncler. They initially partnered back in 2010 to release a down jacket and reversible vest covered in a print by Japanese artist Keita Sugiura that were both constructed of recyclable Bionic yarn. In 2013, they linked up once again to release a trio of eyewear models and new colorways of the pieces featured in his debut project. Some of the vests still fetch thousands of dollars on marketplaces like Grailed. Those past projects made him eager to add a new chapter to the partnership.
“It was just an amazing vibe, a brand just being so open to collaborations at a time when those types of collaborations were few and far between,” Pharrell says. “Now, it happens every day, but they really jumped out there and it was an eye opener to the industry. For things to come full circle and for them to want me to come and do something else was just an honor.”
We got a chance to chop it up with Pharrell about his latest project, his approach to collaborations, the 20th anniversary of his brand Billionaire Boys Club, and more. Check out the full conversation below.
What was your reaction to being tapped as one of the seven designers to partake in this special project with Moncler?
It’s just been an honor because I’ve known them for so long. I think when they first took over the brand about 15 years ago I was one of the first collaborations, maybe the first, I’m not sure. I just remember them just being so kind and super open to all the stuff that I wanted to do. I think we did the bulletproof-inspired vest. We did sunglasses. It was just an amazing vibe, a brand just being so open to collaborations at a time when those types of collaborations were few and far between. Now, it happens every day, but they really jumped out there and it was an eye opener to the industry. For things to come full circle and for them to want me to come and do something else was just an honor.
Can you just touch on the inspiration and your process behind the jacket that you created this time around?
For one, we wanted to do a rubber clad puffer. And there’s another one that I did that has pearls on it. Were you talking about the rubber one or the pearl one?
The black rubber one is the one that I’ve seen.
The rubber one we just wanted to try something different and something that was resilient to the elements like rubber. So, we cladded up a rubber Maya puffer.
You were also able to select someone to model the jacket for this campaign. What led you to selecting Tobe Nwigwe?
I just felt like it was the right image and the right look for it. I feel like he’s just a trailblazer in terms of doing things that make sense for him and his archetype. He has a super strong sound. I just felt like him with that black rubber winter jacket, the resilience in everything that he does and the resilience that the concept represented, just was a natural fit.
You’ve partnered with Moncler before. What makes them such a good partner for you creatively?
Moncler is a French brand owned by an Italian family. I think they just share this dream of outerwear and winterwear that is of the future. It’s always given me James Bond vibes.
Collaborations have become so commonplace in the fashion world nowadays. What still excites you about the idea of collaboration and what is your mindset to make sure that the collabs you are doing aren’t lost in the shuffle of everything else going on?
Collaboration is always an opportunity to learn something else. It’s a means of expressing oneself. It’s not worth doing if it’s not on the precipice of burning everything around it.
You’re helping Moncler celebrate this huge milestone with its brand. Generally speaking, what about a brand makes them timeless in your opinion?
I wanted to touch on Joopiter really quick. I know you aren’t necessarily someone who likes to live in the past, but how was it to at least briefly revisit some of those moments, see all those years of things you created on display in one place like that, and see the excitement that so many people had for it?
Seeing all those things, because they’re usually just archived, was weird because I never really revisit the past that much. It’s not what I do. I’m still dreaming of the future. That’s just who I am. It’s the way I’m wired. And that has its side effects, by the way. But yeah, it was crazy. And then seeing people’s reaction to it, of course I’m honored. It’s not always guaranteed that anyone will care about anything that you do, but when people care about one’s process and one’s trajectory, one can’t help but be grateful.
When you look at that lot of items that you auctioned off, obviously you came to a point where you were ready to pass them on to the next curator or collector, but was there a particular piece that was the hardest for you to part with?
They’re all just molecules, right?
You had no particular memories with any of them that made you consider holding onto them?
No, it was just a different time. I’m in a different place in my life.
The one particular N.E.R.D. chain you made with Jacob and Co. sold for over $2 million. It was significantly higher than other items in the lot. Did you have any reaction to that?
I don’t have any connection to it. I’m grateful, but that’s it.
I saw Slick Rick came to the Joopiter event. You seemed very excited about his presence there. He’s clearly a very pivotal figure to you. Can you just touch on his importance?
I would’ve never made any of that jewelry if my mind had not been drenched in imagery and the music that Slick Rick made in the late ‘80s and the way he was wearing big jewelry. There would be no such thing as a big Cuban with diamonds in it if he hadn’t had a big Cuban that I saw. I went and obviously got a different type of Cuban and diamonds, bigger diamonds, but that was all inspired by him. I was like, “Okay, I want to do what he did, but I’m gonna do it how we would do it today.”
Another big milestone approaching is the 20th anniversary of your brand Billionaire Boys Club. I know you just opened the store in Miami recently. You’re still finding ways to expand and keep the brand fresh. Can you just talk about the growth of the brand and how it feels to be able to still see it going strong 20 years later?
Yeah, I mean it’s just growing. There’s now another skate team with ICECREAM. It’s just proof of concept that if you stick with something and you continue to water it and give it the proper sunshine that it will continue to grow and blossom.
How would you say your approach to design and world building with a brand has changed from then to now?
It’s all about intention, innovation, and execution.
When you look at the world of fashion right now, what excites you and who do you think is gonna lead that next generation?
It’s ever changing. It’s changing so fast, so that remains to be seen, but that’s the beautiful thing.