Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wealth is of The Heart and Mind, not of The Pocket

I realized that I never posted this interview I did with Pharrell a while back....that reminds me, he's getting his tats removed..... anyway....

Dynamic Duo Pharrell Williams and Nigo take us on a journey through Disneyland

I’m on On Lan Street (Hong Kong), meeting the founders of the clothing label, Billionaires Boys Club (BBC), and the sneaker brand, Ice Cream. One half of the dynamic duo is production genius and icon Pharrell Williams, who no longer needs an introduction. For the less clued-up, Pharrell made himself a name as the lead singer of his band, Nerd, and as producer with The Neptunes (which includes partner Chad Hugo), creating one hit after another for musicians such as Timberlake, Snoop, Usher, Diddy, Britney, Kelis, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani and Jay Z to name but a few. The list is endless. Pharrell dominates the global music scene, and today he has his own radio hits. He’s getting the same attention as his friend Snoop, if not more. But music isn’t the only metier he feels comfortable in, as fashion and music are starting to merge.

The other half of the brilliant combo is Japanese fashion icon and A Bathing Ape founder and designer Nigo. Nigo seems to be less outgoing and more reserved than Pharrell, but nonetheless he has a great following in Japan, where he is worshipped like a rock star, and his fame in the States is growing rapidly thanks to his buddy Pharrell. Nigo has his fingers in many pies. Apart from supervising his numerous divisions of A Bathing Ape, including Bape Play (the toy division), Bape Cuts (the hair salon), Baby Milo (the children’s clothing line), Bape Galley (the art gallery), Bape Café (the restaurant), Bape TV (the TV program) and Ape Sounds (the record label), Nigo is also in charge of the design for BBC and Ice Cream.

The interview is taking place inside the new BBC and Ice Cream store, which looks like a rocket on the outside and resembles outer space on the inside, featuring a Milky Way ceiling with stars and a floor resembling the surface of the moon. I literally find myself in the tip of the rocket at the very top of the store, waiting for Pharrell and Nigo to arrive.

Eventually Pharrell and Nigo show up. They arrive with their entire entourage in tow, including producers from Star Trak (Pharrell’s record label), PAs, translaters and so on. They all come to gaze at the new store and to catch a glimpse of Pharrell’s and Nigo’s world. But Skateboard P (he owns a skateboard team) and Nigo both seem very low-key, dressed in casual jeans and sweaters, none of the bling that we are so used to from all the Hip Hop video clips, except maybe for Pharrell’s chunky ring, which he flaunts on his right hand. The gathering reminds me of a bunch of friends hanging out at someone’s apartment. Everybody just seems so comfortable with each other, unlike the usual business environment you experience with other brands. After everybody has shown their enthusiasm, expressed their admiration for the boutique and asked for directions to the nearest Hermès store, the crowd trickles out. I’ve waited the last six years to meet the genius, heck what are another two minutes? Finally the swarm leaves, and I can start the interview.

Pharrell and Nigo know of each other through Jacob the Jeweller. Nigo was a great fan of Pharrells and used to get them same jewellery made. They eventually met up in Tokyo, when Nigo arranged a session with him in his studio. “Nigo was super open when I met him,” says Pharrell. “He was very complimentary and expressed much admiration for my work. It was different for me though when I walked into his studio. I didn’t think anything of it, and then they told me exactly who he was and what he does. I realised that I had seen his brand here and there. In the US only the coolest of the coolest of the coolest people knew about it, but nobody could get it. So when he took me downstairs to his showroom and he showed me all his samples, he said ‘Whatever you want, you can have it’. He just did that again the other day. He’s just very generous, and I know that when I took those shoes back to the States, that I was going to impress everyone.”

The adoration and respect for each other’s work is limitless and probably also the driving force behind BBC, Ice Cream and other previous projects such as the Louis Vuitton collaboration for a range of sunglasses. The two creative heads almost seem like long lost brothers, sharing a love for science fiction. Their shop is like Disneyland for grown-ups, who haven’t lost touch with their inner child. Much like Pharrell himself, whose childlike charming innocence and artistic mind, reminds one of a young boy. Paired with the ambition and initiative to visualise, manifest and transform his dreams into reality, he is a true genius. “We both love the experience when you walk into something like a Disney World,” says Pharrell. “When you walk into an Ape store, you walk into his idea of how he wants his clothes and sneakers represented. BBC follows that same mentality. When you walk in here, we want you to feel the way we feel, when we are creating it. This is kind of how Nigo and I met, but to me, that still feels new. Nigo is my friend, in fact our whole team…we’re all friends.” What Pharrell refers to as the team, is a bunch of highly creative talented people, having a great time, sharing their ideas and letting others be a part of their world and vision.

The two brands consist of T-shirts, polos, denims, suits, shirts, hats and sneakers and are produced in limited quantities. They are well-known for their bright colours and most of all for the BBC symbol, the iconic astronaut logo. Instead of sporting a crocodile on your polo, you can now have something much cooler and trendier. BBC connects the worlds of wealth and the alternative anti-money culture with slogans, such as “Wealth is of the heart and mind, not the pocket.” BBC and Ice cream are high-end luxury sports brands for the sophisticated yet young at heart. The clientele is largely male, attracting guys, who are looking for something unique, something cool and somewhat underground, guys who like mixing with the creative crowd, like Pharrell and Nigo, The Billionaire Boys.

“I had an opportunity to do sneakers with Reebok,” says Pharrell. “But I really wanted to do the astronaut as an icon together with Ice Cream. I talked to a couple of people about it before and they all thought I was crazy because I wanted to do two brands at the same time. But Nigo just kind of got it. I wanted to borrow one of his visual artists to draw my ideas and get it done professionally, and he said ‘I will do more than that. I’ll help you.’ I couldn’t believe it, and I still feel that way to today. We always have something new happening. The brand is growing, and there is much respect and admiration for it around the world. You begin with a model, and you come to see it, and it actually manifests, and it comes to be this cool boutique palace. It’s what we visualised. I think that’s what we share.”

Pharrell humbly apologises to Nigo for taking so much time to answer the question and drawing the attention away from him. But once Pharrell starts elaborating about something he feels passionate about, things can take a while. It’s as if everything around him stands still and everybody listens and get’s sucked into his idea, teleported into his world, Pharrell’s Disneyland. His vision is so clear, so pure. It’s heaven.

“I was a real fan of Pharell’s music even before we met,” says Nigo. “I wanted to get to know this guy who was making music and who had an individual style. I thought he was really cool and an interesting character. So when we met, Pharrell originally just asked for advice on his brand. But I suggested to do things properly.” “Isn’t it amazing?” Pharrell throws into the room, revealing once more, how much he treasures Nigo’s talent. “He’s a genius!” Their connection and understanding for each other seems so strong and almost sacred, it makes me wonder how they communicate, as Nigo’s answers are translated from Japanese into English. Pharrell quickly admits that he hasn’t picked up any Japanese so far. “I’m embarrassed,” he says. “It’s crazy, because he perfectly understands English, he just doesn’t speak English with other people. I feel so privileged, as we actually have conversations. It’s pretty cool.”

Pharrell’s NASA obsession and his fascination with outer space and Star Trek are well documented. Wherever he goes, his legion of geek-boy fans make the Vulcan “live long and prosper” salute sign to him. His love for stars is reflected in his lyrics, brands and in every detail of the Hong Kong store. So what exactly is this attraction all about? “There are two things,” he points out. “The unknown and the mystery, but the stars are just beautiful.” He gets that look in his eyes, where he seems as if he just took off on a journey ….drifting out into space. His words carry you away with him and you follow. “They shine without prejudice. No intelligent mind could argue the beauty of the stars and the whole celestial existence. No one can really argue how beautiful it is. I was just looking at the National Geographic in my room, and they showed new pictures from outer space. So sick! There are just storms and storms of galaxies. So great!” Pharrell’s nerdy and somewhat romantic side is nothing like I expected. He has so many different personalities, the ghetto player, the studio geek….who is the true Pharrell when he isn’t busy frontin’? “The student,” he responds. “I love to learn, and I like to be amongst greatness. I’d much rather watch National Geographic, the Discovery or the Science channel, than hang out at some nice party. But it took me basically 17 years to learn that, I’m 34 now. I’d much rather be around genius people I can learn things from… all the way around, 360 degrees….not only how to polish what I know, such as creating. But it’s about realising how important research is for your development as an individual and not just for what it is that you do. But I’m a student, a student to life.”

Pharrell loves the mystery, never revealing too much about his plans. He tries to keep things under the radar until they actually happen, such as the store opening in New York. “I’m really excited about this though,” says Pharrell, directing the conversation back to the store in Hong Kong. “Nigo’s probably tired of me saying this, but I feel really blessed. I know that I’m blessed, and I’m so fortunate to be around such a strong team of creative minds. Never in a million years I would have imagined this. “I don’t try to take credit. There are tons and tons of things that I think I could take credit for, fashion and music wise…. but I don’t do that. I make a practice out of it, because I feel credit should be given and not taken, and I live by that.”
Pharrell mentions how some of the interviews often portray him in the wrong kind of light, making him sound more self-important than he really is. “I’m not into that,” he says. “I’d rather say nothing. My ego says nothing. Nigo walks in and his aura, his fashion, his music and his taste in everything that he does speaks for him. I’d much rather be like that. I’d much rather have my skills and my gifts from God to perceive me. Less ego and more creativity.” Pharrell’s philosophical thoughts and statements aren’t something he just makes up on the spur of the moment. His clothes have a deeper message and meaning. “Fashion is a direct connection from you,” he says. “We try to make things that match people’s emotions. I think if more people would dress how they feel. The world would be a better place. But instead we have to fit in trends, we have to fit into a certain size and value is placed upon it. All women say they have to be a size…whatever the hell it is. You look your best when you dress in what makes you feel comfortable. So that’s what we try to do. We try to give people clothes that match their emotions.”

Maybe Pharrell’s gift from God is to make this world a better place, something like a heaven on earth. To no surprise, when asked about one thing he would wish for, he answers “To live in heaven. There you have everything you could ever want.” He has that dreamy look in his eyes again, and he gets quiet. He gathers his thoughts and continues. “I believe heaven is a place where it’s just a frequency, where all spirits go. It’s not quite physical in terms of the body, there is not much room for anything less than elation. That’s my assumption, if I had to take a scientific guess on spirituality. Other than that I don’t know….. heaven is inside of a girl." The translater next to me starts to chuckle, and I snap out of my reverie. Pharrell smiles and continues “….no pun intended.”

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