Never one to shy away from a statement accessory, whether it be aface-obscuring kerchief or That Hat, Pharrell Williams outdid himself last night at the BET Awards, sporting the favored mall footwear of the early 2000s: the Ugg boot. Sure, Pharrell’s man-Uggs were part of a limited-edition collaboration with Junya Watanabe, but still. Still.
Pharrell had been quietly working in hip-hop and R&B for nearly a decade as one half of the Neptunes, his iconic production duo with Chad Hugo, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that they first became famous enough for paparazzi-fied events, having scored singles for the likes of Jay Z, Britney, and more. Pharrell was partial to oversize jeans and T-shirts advertising the Neptunes’ record label Star Trak, nerdified substantially with shearling jackets and trucker hats and Pharrell’s ubiquitous Vulcan-sign hand. He would later tell InStyle, “Fashion has to reflect who you are, what you feel at the moment, and where you’re going. It doesn’t have to be bright, it doesn’t have to be loud. Just has to be you.” It’s a mantra he’ll follow through the years.
Though hip-hop producers weren’t exactly red-carpet regulars in the early aughts, by 2003, Pharrell was an international superstar, with enough hits under his Gucci belt to be invited to the CFDA Awards for the first time. Clearly he’d also learned a thing or two about fit, as well, though thankfully we’ve all left that drape and hue of denim in the last decade. Still repping the Star Trak Records Vulcan symbol, no matter how formal the occasion. Live long, and tailor.
Pharrell’s rising star also afforded him more travel to Japan, where he became enamored with Harajuku streetwear brand A Bathing Ape (BAPE), and its founder, designer/DJ Nigo. The company produced colorful sweatshirts and sneakers with a distinct shooting-star logo, often in patent leather, that ran at a $350 price point — not uncommon in the current luxury sneaker era, but fairly bananas back in ’03. That year, Pharrell made a notable shift toward brighter, Japanese-inspired patterns and flair, from the tilt of his BAPE skully to the Murakami design of his Louis Vuitton facial bandana. That year, in conversation with Michael Jackson for Interview, he alludes to his forthcoming lofty sartorial decisions when he describes making his music as “[treating the air like a canvas and the paint is in the chords that come through your fingers … so when I’m playing, I’m painting a feeling in the air.”
By the next year, Pharrell and Nigo had teamed up Stateside to start Billionaire Boys Club, a fairly standard streetwear line, and the slightly more ostentatious Ice Creams, round-toed sneakers characterized by their allover-print pop-art ice cream cones and dollar signs and diamonds. The shoes were something of a piece de resistance, insofar that if you could resist them, you could avoid walking around New York City looking like a grown toddler. Nevertheless, they proved quite popular, and Pharrell’s style was evermore refined upon further Nigo hangtime, blending hues of camouflage, donning BAPE underwear, and piling on necklaces (call him 10 Chainz, if you will). On one of Snoop Dogg’s biggest post-millennial hits, “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” Pharrell rapped: “I’m a nice dude with some nice dreams. See these ice cubes? See these Ice Creams?” How could you miss them, though!
Concurrent with Pharrell’s Ice Cream domination was the rise of the all-over-print hoodie, when not just P but seemingly every rap fan in New York City spent approximately 12 to 13 months wearing garish, babylike patterns in snuggie-soft fabrics. Bape and BBC were the purveyors of many, particularly among hip-hop skate rats in the nether regions of Manhattan, though the trend branched out to boutique brands like Supreme to more mass market labels such as Stussy. Of his BBC line and his collaborator Nigo, Pharrell told German music website electronicbeats.net, “Greatness, in my life, has definitely come from art. It’s a collaborative effort between me and my partner. I give him drawings or visual references and he turns my ideas into reality. I am very fortunate to flush out my ideas with a genius.”