Pharrell Williams's Clever Definition of Black Tie Isn't What You Think

This is exactly why he is a style icon.

The 71st Annual Parsons Benefit Honoring Pharrell, Everlane, StitchFix & The RealReal
Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Pharrell Williams has been on a valedictory tour of late, cheering on graduates with a speech at the University of Virginia last week and accepting an award in New York on Monday night at the 71st annual Parsons Benefit, which raised $3.6 million for its scholarship funds.

“I’m standing here in awe of these students and the world they are designing for us,” Williams said. “I look around and really feel the future they are creating. I am inspired by the optimism and potential in the room.”

The event, which traditionally showcases the work of graduating seniors in The New School’s fashion program, has evolved in recent years into a more focused presentation of work by students who won individual challenges based on social innovation, future textiles, and creative systems. And the work was particularly promising, starting with a selection of men’s clothing made from repurposed materials by Andrew Davis, and ending with more abstract red plastic shapes that resembled oversize cookie cutters by Veronica Lee. In previous Parsons shows that have included a broader range of students’ work, the sense that many of them were being a bit too referential to avant-garde designers like Alexander McQueen and Rei Kawakubo had been unavoidable. But this selection seemed more unique, which certainly appealed to Williams.

Asked, before the show, what advice he would give to the students, Williams said, “To keep in mind that your greatest gift is your individuality and because of such you should do it yourself and essentially do you.”

He led by example. Although the dress code called for “creative black tie,” Williams wore a hoodie, shorts, and loafers from his new Chanel collaboration. Asked how this look fit into the theme, he said, “Well, they said creative black tie. I’m black, and this is the way I tie it together.”

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