The N.E.R.D Of The Music Fashion Industry

HHip-hop has endured a turbulent love affair with fashion, with years of examples gone by of how the two can marry perfectly or get it horribly wrong. Yet none have proved to be more original or successful than the work of singer/songwriter, rapper, record producer and fashion label runner Pharrell Williams. Despite being ever present today on iPod’s worldwide as a decade ago, the forty year old now has another field of expertise.

Numerous musical collaborations with artists such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, who both held their own clothing labels at the time would be enough to channel almost anyone’s inner designer. Especially the man regarded as the worlds most fashionable, according to style magazine GQ, on more than one occasion. Pharrell’s relationship with clothing can be dated to 2004, and the launch of two personalised brands.


Image credit: nasser mohamed saad on Flickr

I wanted clothing I couldn’t find, so I decided to make it.

– Pharrell Williams

Autumn of 2004 saw Pharrell end many months of speculation by launching both Billionaire Boys Club (BBC) and ICECREAM, two streetwear labels which revolutionised hip-hop fashion from a marketing perspective. Joined by Japanese design god Nigo, founder of streetwear giant Bape, the lines are directed toward the hip-hop community while simultaneously attracting the streetwear head, with skater type prints and fits and Japanese design edge. BBC and Ice Cream rely heavily on the culture of “hype” associated with the hip-hop and streetwear worlds: a marketing phenomenon taken full advantage of by the two brands.

Business partner and friend Nigo’s line BAPE, A Bathing Ape, had a relatively small but loyal following in the United States due to the exclusive and difficult to obtain nature of the clothing. The brand is only available in carefully selected boutiques, online, and in the few Bape stores that there are worldwide, predominantly based in Asia. This combined with the fact that BAPE rarely advertise, ensure the exclusivity factor is ever-present, a Japanese marketing technique which Williams and Nigo stuck with when joining forces. As opposed to advertising, the word of mouth spread through blogs, social networking and an online store plays an influential role in the culture of “hype”.

With the online store playing such an integral part in the continued success of both BBC and ICECREAM, the choice in management is not one taken lightly. Providing a unique look behind the scenes of one of the most successful strategies in marketing, the position is the dream job of numerousstreetwear heads around the world. Who’s voice could be more credible than the manager of both BBC and ICECREAM webstores, Ross Westland, who was kind enough to spare a few moments out of his busy schedule to offer his opinion on both brands, the marketing strategy in place as well as the man Pharrell himself.

“Hip-Hop is unique in that there has always been a culture of ‘one-upmanship’ between artists. Personally I believe this is born out of black culture with many artists in the beginning coming from deprived families and the ghettos – clothes acted as a badge of personality and were highly valued since they aspired to have all the clothes and money of the richer classes and wealthier Americans. This is why you had Hip-Hop musicians personalising items from way back and guys like Dapper Dan ripping off higher end designer brands with their own clothing. The brands that Pharrell created followed the same strategy as the Japanese brands in that there was a limited availability to keep the demand high and make sure that there were new designs continuously. BBC and ICECREAM have been born with that same idea which has created the hype in the first place whereas other brands have played catch up by making one off and exclusive pieces due to the mass marketing of hype.”

Furthermore, Ross offers an inside view of Pharrell’s much publicised relationship and working technique with BAPE founder Nigo:

“The partnership between Nigo and Pharrell was a mutual partnership. Pharrell had a massive US and Western influence at the time whereas Nigo was pretty much unknown to the West, as was BAPE. Pharrell therefore helped market BAPE in the West, making use of his celebrity statusto spread the BAPE popularity. Nigo also gave his creative expertise and originality in design influences using his team of designers for BAPE on the Ice Cream and BBC lines.”

Through input from a first hand perspective, there can be no doubt as to who influenced the emergence of the culture of “hype” associated with hip-hop music. Pharrell, alongside Nigo, implemented the marketing technique made use of already by several streetwear brands in Asia, to tremendous market success, with the aid of Pharrell’s standing in the music industry.