For his first show as men’s creative director of Louis Vuitton in June, Pharrell Williams closed down the Pont Neuf in Paris, and counted mega-celebrities including Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and Rihanna and A$AP Rocky as guests.
His second effort took place in Hong Kong and focused on local stars in the front row. The actors Zhu Yilong and Chow Yun-fat were joined by three members of the Cantopop band Mirror and the rapper Tyson Yoshi. There was also a take on celestial stars, with a light show at the end rendering the Louis Vuitton monogram in twinkling lights across the city’s harbour.
Models walked along the Avenue of the Stars, a hall of fame-style stretch on the K11 Victoria Dockside that features the handprints of actors from east Asian cinema.
The catwalk had a film of the sea projected on to it, with sand on the edges. Appropriately, the clothes had a tropical feel. There were prints with hothouse flowers across suiting and surfboards, and most models wore sliders. Surf culture was an inspiration – along with boards, models wore the long-sleeved rash vest that surfers wear, with “Vuitton” printed across them.
Sailors were another archetype, with some models wearing the kind of round hat worn at sea in the 1950s with shorts and wide-sleeved T-shirts. Williams wore a smart beige suit with one of the hats, and rhinestone-ringed sunglasses, for his finale.
Staging a show in Hong Kong is not just a way to give a new backdrop to Williams’s designs. It is also about courting the luxury consumer in Asia. According to HSBC, luxury sales will grow 20% in the region during 2024, with Hong Kong namechecked as a key market. In August, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported the city had the highest per capita expenditure on luxury goods.
Hong Kong recognises the boon of the show coming to the city. The event is in partnership with the Cheng family, who own the K11 development, and sponsored by local enterprises including the culture, sports and tourism bureau and the tourism board.
Vincenzo La Torre, the chief editor of the SCMP’s Style publication, described the show as “the biggest event of the year in Hong Kong … [residents] hope that this show will help change perceptions about the city and help it regain its status as a major tourist and shopping destination in Asia and beyond”.
The location also chimes with the customer Williams is now courting. “Pharrell loves Hong Kong and Japan, and his style – a kind of polished preppy with a mix of streetwear and just the right amount of bling – is not that different from what guys in this part of the world wear on a daily basis,” says La Torre. “His friends in Hong Kong – I know some of them – are very much into that luxury-inflected streetwear that he helped pioneer.”
The collection on show was what is called pre-fall, the name for the clothes released by luxury brands between the main spring/summer and autumn/winter collections. This is the first time Louis Vuitton has put the men’s clothes for this season on the runway, following the example of Dior Men; the Louis Vuitton chief executive, Pietro Beccari, moved from this brand to Louis Vuitton in February. Dior Men’s creative director, Kim Jones, has staged shows everywhere from Venice Beach in LA to the pyramids of Giza. It was announced this week that the next show for Dior Men would also be in Hong Kong.
There has also been controversy during Williams’s first year at Vuitton. This month, the brand launched a made-to-order bag called the Millionaire Speedy. Made of crocodile leather, it – appropriately for the name – cost $1m. Called out by the animal rights group Peta for the use of exotic skins, it has also been seen as a gauche move, even for a luxury brand, in a cost of living crisis. “[It] is a brand gimmick and an insensitive declaration of global north privilege,” the fashion commentator Caryn Franklin said.