Last night (May 20), the annual Parsons Benefit took place at Pier 60 in NYC. At the top of the honoree list was one of fashion’s finest, Pharrell Williams. The New School honored the musician, songwriter, producer and designer with an award for his work as a creative throughout his two-decade-long career.
The honorees were recognized for embodying the university’s dedication to creativity, sustainability, and innovation as well as their exceptional commitment to education and charitable acts.
The iconic entertainer showed up in a black Mercedes Sprinter while rocking a green sweatshirt from his BBC line with grey shorts and a pair of his Chanel x Pharrell black loafers. His wife, Helen Lasichanh, was in attendance as well. She was a perfect mix of classic and sporty cool wearing an ivory, tweed, Chanel jacket and parachute pants, accompanied by polka dot Comme De Garçon sneakers and a limited-edition Chanel purse.
Aside from winning 13 Grammy awards and bringing the first major music festival to his hometown of Virginia Beach, Something In The Water, Pharrell has marched to the beat of his own drum and carved out a niche for himself in the world of fashion. His Ice Cream and Billionaire Boys Club brands changed the game by combining skateboarding culture with urban streetwear. He also started a textile company, Bionic Yarn, which is an ecologically friendly sustainable company that transforms recovered plastic into durable materials. Their goal is to unite industry leading brands to substantially reduce ocean plastic. Pharrell also has an ongoing collaboration with Adidas and most recently a collection of apparel and accessories with Chanel.
We caught up with Pharrell ahead of receiving his award and spoke to him about breaking barriers with his collaborations and the importance of taking risks as an artist as well as with his clothing.
Pharrell explained, “Well, fashion is a means of expression. For me, it’s how you feel in the morning, where you got to go, and what the weather is going to be like. That’s how I kind of make my decisions. I think for any and everybody, it’s a means of expression because it’s an extension of whatever it is that you do. Like if the way you dress is informed by your vocation or the way you spend your time religiously or the way you spend your time [informally] — I think fashion is an extension [of that]. It’s kind of like the exclamation mark if your spirit is the sentence.”
He also believes the most important key to taking risks is trusting yourself and said, “You have to trust yourself and you have to trust God. Between the two, you won’t lose.”
The 2019 Parsons Benefit raised $3.6 million in scholarships, including funds from a live auction where a bidder won behind-the-scenes access to an Adidas x Pharrell campaign photo shoot, including a dinner with the designer extraordinaire for $100,000. Pharrell actually upped the ante by challenging the underbidder to $100,000 for a lunch date with him.
Pharrell also told us about the value of getting a fashion education and said, “I think education of such is awesome. But I also think it’s important to leave room for what your natural instincts are too.”
Being in the fashion industry since the early 2000s, the industry has definitely changed over the years. Artists like Jay-Z and Diddy have come out with streetwear brands, but none have taken it to a new height the way Pharrell has. Pharrell believes that the industry evolves the way we as people do, saying: “Fashion will always evolve. As long as we as a species have something to do with it, it’s going to always evolve. Sometimes it will evolve into these other little different worlds and little different sectors. Other times, it will evolve much slowly in a much larger and bigger way. That’s just the nature of us as a species. We evolve.”
When speaking about the accolades he was receiving from Parsons, Pharrell said, “I’m so flattered to be recognized by Parsons and for our commitment to creativity, innovation, and sustainability. I think creativity is a gift and I feel very lucky that I am able to spend every day being imaginative. That is really and truly a gift, and I think that should be afforded to all children.”
Pharrell believes that the best way to support the next generation is to encourage them to be themselves.
“We should just encourage them to do themselves. Do what feels right for them. We need that individuality.”
High-profile artist Kaws presented him with the coveted award. During his acceptance speech, Pharrell touched on the highly debated issues that we’re currently dealing with in terms of women’s rights saying, “Women are having an amazing moment and a crazy moment. It’s about time for the doors to open but it’s like really about turning and closing the doors on people who think they can govern your bodies.” He proceeded to say, “they keep trying to tell you what to do with your reproductive organs. Sooner or later, you guys will just wise up and realize your true power is shut down your reproductive organs and just end mankind altogether.”
Pharrell is elevating the fashion industry; not by means of utilizing more expensive materials but by taking into account that the fashion industry needs to be more accountable for its negative impact on the planet. This award was more than deserved for the mogul and philanthropist.
(Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Parsons)
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