In an exclusive interview with Suzy Menkes, the music and fashion mogul champions best practice – and urges all industry leaders to follow
Pharrell Williams and Suzy Menkes at the G-Star RAW headquarters in Amsterdam
When I spoke to Pharrell Williams about his investment in G-Star RAW, we went on to talk about his other day job: the music business.
I find what he said so interesting, because it expresses the mindset of the Millennial Generation and applies to much more than the music industry. For example, the future of the luxury industry needs to embrace the concept of experience as much as the object itself.
Here’s what Pharrell, 43 today, told me in full:
“There’s something happening in the music industry, like the 'spring uprisings' and upheavals that are happening all over the world, and I’m working with some really talented people who are seeing it too. It’s almost like The Big Short [the 2015 film]. That’s what’s happening right now; a big crash that’s already happening that most people don’t know about in the music industry.A lot of the major labels are surviving but it’s crashed and they’re trying to make it look like everyone’s okay, but it’s really not okay, because people are being laid off.
“We have some answers; we think there's a solution and you’ll see that some artists are now suing major labels. It's being kept quiet as much as possible, but if you go looking you can find it. It’s happening mainly because the music industry has been very hung up on this dinosaur, prehistoric mentality where it has to be tangible goods that you're selling. But the average kid doesn’t want to own a CD because you have to carry it. Why should you own something that's on a digital medium? You really don’t own it at the end of a day — it’s stored on a phone or stored on someone else’s site.
“This is the generation that doesn’t want to own anything: ‘I don’t want a car, I can Uber.’ ‘I don’t want to commit to this big meal, I want tapas.’ ‘I want to try this and then I want to try that.’ So the guys who are running this business, they think that everything has to be tactile in a physical way. We know you have to touch a person to feel them, but those guys are old school, they’re like, "Oh, you need to feel..." Hugs are great, but we know that there's a lot of virtual love in the world.
“And CDs? It’s not even the plastic that was a huge problem, it’s the concept of controlling these artists. Music companies shouldn’t be rights controllers, or rights holders, they should be rights protectors. Protect the artist, don’t control the artist. They’re not slaves! Like they say on some of their contracts that they want to own your masters. Shouldn’t you be the master of you? Who should tell you where you can and cannot go? There are passports, but we’re not in jail. That’s how the musicians are thinking today, so there’s a ‘Music Spring’ right now.
Pharrell Williams performing in the UK in summer 2015
“I’m working with Apple and they’re doing some amazing things behind closed doors that are coming in conjunction with Beats. Some of the things we are doing for the community are going to be next level. I can’t get too deep into it, but it’s coming. And it’s very interesting that you asked me about it, because to me it’s across all artistic disciplines. The reason we know all that was going on in Renaissance times is because it was coming out in the work. Those guys were using their art as a medium to explain; those paintings are like a time capsule. There’s incredible geometry in a Leonardo da Vinci paintings, and it also tells you about the times. He was asked to paint things that pre-dated him, but he was relating them to his current social issues in those mediums.
“A certain vigilance is needed for best practice across all artistic disciplines, from the materials that we use to the intentions of the owners. No one wants to be owned; this is a maverick time. More than ever you’re seeing so much self-expression; the reason why these fashion blogs and street blogs are so popular is because people are so interested to see one-off people, people with the best style, like truckers. I saw people wearing trucker hats almost 20 years ago – I saw it on a trucker and thought it was cool. I just followed what the real guy was doing, so I’m the poseur. I’m a follower, I was tuning into what was real.
“We’re at a time when we’re saying, ‘Enough. I’m not property, my property is not your property — you can have access to it, but you won’t control it. And, by the way, because I’m thinking about my planet and the caps melting, I don’t want to do things the way you did. Your old buildings have asbestos in there because you only cared about building things up and making money.
“I don’t need anything big, I just need quality living space. I don’t need quantity in jeans, I just need quality pairs that I buy because they actually have a real statement in there; there’s real DNA and RNA — that’s my intention.”