Pharrell Williams has soundtracked our lives for over two decades now, yet you would never guess from looking at his face. There were some years where one in f ive songs played on the radio were produced by Pharrell, though you would still struggle to f ind a worry line on his 45-year-old forehead. Whether it’s fronting a Chanel handbag campaign, producing the grimiest of rap tracks for Clipse, exhibiting his furniture designs at Art Basel Miami, or even judging The Voice, perhaps no-one navigates the faultlines of high and low culture, of mass and exclusivity as effortlessly as Pharrell. At least that’s how it appears from the outside looking in. So in an effort to get a better understanding of what goes on i n t he polymath’s head, we c aught up with him over t wo days i n which Pharrell f lew f rom Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back again to rehearse Sangria Wine
– his new single with Camilla Cabello – at the Billboard Awards, woke up early the next day to watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle marry, then have his portrait taken by Brigitte Lacombe for this magazine, before then f lying back to Vegas for the Billboard perfomance, to discuss fashion, music, and the year which changed his outlook on life. l’uomo vogue: What are you up to at the moment? pharrell w illiams: Work, work, work. I ’m a t a point now where I want to focus on just a few things and give them my devoted and undivided attention. Forme,mythreepr io riti es are: God-slash-others, my f amily, and then work. l’ u.v.Fathe rho od ha sawayof re def in ingwhat’ s important in life, and last year you welcomed triplets into the world. What are the projects that have made it through this paradigm? p.w.M usi cistheske le tonkeythathas open edthe door to al l these other beautiful disciplines. Remixes are also very important because they give us - myself, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley [ editor’s note, Pharrell’s N.E.R.D bandmates] - the opportunity ton u dg epeopl et osay“Hey,youg otto know what’s going on” with the African-American and Latin diaspora in America. What’s happening to us, black and brown, i s crazy. l’u.v. That’s interesting to hear as I’m not sure if I can remember you using your position to speak out on political issues - are you doing so now because of Trump? p.w. Yes and no. Most people don’t realise but our f irst single, Lapdance, was about the Bush administration; about how we felt politicians were more like dancers than they were politicians - they dance around the point. You’ll notice I said my priorities are God-slash-others, my family and then work. In my opinion, God is within others, and the work you do for other people just goes towards a greater kar- mic debt, or credit. One of the projects I’m dealing withnowisbu il ding sound stagesf or film studio sto come and work in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where I’m f rom - I gotta give back. l’u.v. You recently produced the Netf lix documentaries Hidden Figures and Roxanne. Why have you chosen to work more within this medium? p.w. As a musician, I love to tell stories, so I wouldn’t c al lita transiti onbut more o fabro aden in gof means and resources to tell stories. Fox bought our musical fora film calle dAtlantis- Atlanti sisthe name of t he housing projects I g rew up i n. While the story isn’t about my life - it’s about teenagers in and around 1977; I was born in 1973 - it’s written with details of how the neighbourhood felt to me as a child. That’s one of t he reasons why we want the soundstages to be in Virginia, as when we did
Hidden Figures, a film about three African-American women mathematicians who worked in Hampton Roads, where I’m from, we had to shoot that down in Atlanta.The sound stage s are priorityf orme. I know the kind of jobs they will create; the kind of economic trajectory it can have on my city and the neighbouring ones. l’u.v. I saw this amazing photograph of you at the Holi festival in India covered with pastel colours on the street. There was something about it that really s eemed t o capture your e ssence - or at l east your amazing way with colour. What were you doing there? p.w. Adidas brought me there, and I had one of the most amazing times. That maharishi tribal music is incredible! I just could not bel ieve the rhythms, the f requency t hat t hey s ing i n a nd t he notes t hat they choose. The note progressions were so mindblowing, I could have stayed there for days. And as you reference, the colours - colour is my favourite thing; yellow is my favourite colour. And all of that colour in the air and on people, all listening to this musica ton ce-itwassur real. l’u.v. When I interviewed you l ast, t en years ago, you told me about your experiences of synesthesia and seeing sounds. You downplayed it, as if you didn’t want to attribute your t alent to a super-human power. But I bring it up again as it seems l ike everything you do just comes across as being so effortless… p.w. There’s loads of work. What you perceive to be as easiness is more about the enjoyment of doing it, and the gratitude in doing it. I just can’t accept it in such laudatory language towards myself as there are so many people i nvolved. l’ u.v.Doyoufe el likeyou’ re in ac on stants tate of flow,wh ere it do esn’ tfe el likework? p.w. Anyone can get into a flow. That flow you are referring to is when learning becomes second nature, and you allow your natural propensities to take the reins. It allows your mind to allow other imaginations in at the same time, and that’s when it becomes really magical. Obviously, on a grandiose level, it’s like the universe has conspired to give me all this. But I don’t care who you are, if we put you on Mars,
you cannot do great things on your own. That heliocentric attitude - that’s not what it’s about bro. l’u.v. We l ive in an ego- dominated world. The Beatles visited India in the Sixties in search of enlightenment, and one of the things they learned was to dissolve the ego to better understand creation and the interconnectivity of life. How have you reached these conclusions? p.w.It’ sprobably be ens in ce 2013 forme.That was the year where I saw many things that I never thought I would see. l’u.v. You released Blurred Lines and Happy in 2013 - that was a really big year. What d id you see? p.w. A bunch of t hings… Because I’m a producer, I’ve always stood to the right or the left of the singer or the rapper, but all of a sudden people were looking at me like I was an artist. That level of elevation, without ever asking for it, just humbled me. I then realised that my l ife’s trajectory, from my pointof-view, was literally that - my point-of-view, and there were other points-of-view that I had never even considered that were on the other side of that ponderance. Just as much as I say don’t wait for the stars to align, a huge portion of that is whether the universe works with you to do it. l’u.v. A lot of people today learn about their place in the cosmos through experiences with plant medicines. Have you t ried experimenting with any? p.w. I haven’t. But the things you read about shamanic experiences, is what that year did to me. One day, that year, the universe turned my point- ofview i nside out l ike a s ock, and my s pirit f ainted. When I was brought back, I was teary-eyed, and I had to then go on Oprah. We shot that [ editor’s note Pharrellbr ok e down in tearsafter Op rahscreen ed videos people had made a round t he world of t hem singing ‘Happy’] on my birthday. So it’s l ike, what do you know? We don’t know anything, so you should spend the rest of your l ife being grateful, sharing your experiences and helping others to see thatlightt ha tissobrightand so beau ti fu land so inspiring. A l l I k now i s t here’s s omething b igger and greater that a lways was, is, and a lways will be. That’s the universe. l’u.v. You’re being very humble, but you have been ahead of the curve in many of the f ields you’ve worked in. The streetwear labels you launched with Nigo - Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream - and collaborations with Takashi Murakami, for example, could be regarded as paving the way for the likes of Virgil Abloh today to operate across high and low culture on the level he does. p.w.F orme, Ijustthink go odis go od; it doesn’t matter if it’s high-end or every day. Coming out of the1990’ s, Se anCombsbr ok ed ownthewallsf or us. Puf fy was the f irst to have the likes of Donatella Versace accept him as a truly formidable force. What he did with Notorious B.I.G. and the whole B ad Boyb rand, andhimwea ring Versace allthe time - he opened a lot of doors that were considered to be only for the stuf fy high-end world. He kind of humanised it for everybody else who couldn’t af ford it, and raised the aspirational bar. I wouldn’t know about Chanel - even though I was one of thefirstdu desto startwea ring it-ifitweren’ tf or Puf fy and Jay-Z. They were knocking doors down in crazy ways. l’u.v. You often wear a women’s Chanel jacket, accessorised with long pearl necklaces… p.w. And that is largely because Biggie used to talk ab out it.Youwould se eMaryJ.Bligewea ring Chanel glasses - that’s when I thought to myself, man, I’m going to f ind a couple of items that I can wear. So that’s what got me in it, and what got their attention. l’u.v. You recently curated a playlist for Chanel’s Apple Music channel - how would you describe your relationship to Karl Lagerfeld? What do you guys ad mire i none another? p.w. Karl for me is the real thing. I’ve watched this man sketch what I would be wearing on the runway, and a couple of months later it was done, and it’s like woah! And he’s been doing it for literally over 50 years.I’ mjustsog rate fult ha tI gettoworkwith him and see how his mind works, and the things that he comes up with. l’u.v. Your ongoing collaboration with G-Star Raw began in 2015 when you got them to make a pair of jeans from Bionic Yarn, the recycled plastic textiles company you’ve invested in. Do you think Chanel would be open to using textiles made from recycled plastic? p.w. G-Star has been the number one focus for Bionic Yarn. I can’t get i nto what we’re working on now with Chanel other than to say it’s super luxury and they are incredibly supportive of the ef fort. I’m just grateful that the brands that we have been talking to over the years are now making the environment and the oceans a very serious, singular focus. The planet is 85 % water; people don’t realise that. I’m just into lifting others as there’s so much divisiveness out there right now. If you look at any ofthemessag es onmys ho es or cl othes,you’ ll se e positive aff irmations. Usually, they’re just one word that makes you feel a certain way - elevated. l’u.v. You’ve been rocking a bright pink Human Made hoodie and Muay Thai shor t s recent l y. What’s the story behind the brand? p.w. I’m always wearing Human Made and Adidas Hue. Human Made is a joint project with Nigo. And Hue, by the way, stands for Health Ultimatum, be causeyoucan lieto any on ebutyoucan’ t lieto the person in the mirror. Every day you wake up in the mirror you have to ask yourself, did I let you down? Am I eating well? Am I taking care of you? Every time you look in the mirror - that’s a true health ultimatum. l’u.v. You’ve been making music for over 25 years now, how would you l ike to be remembered? p.w. As a public servant.