A Brief History of Pharrell's Sneaker Collaborations

A Brief History of Pharrell's Sneaker Collaborations

Pharrell Williams is a tastemaker's tastemaker and a powerful creative force who's been ahead of the 'cool' curve for over two decades. Constantly pushing boundaries while also apparently discovering a fountain of youth that helps him look like he hasn't aged a day in 20 years, Skateboard P's sound and style influence can be felt in every corner of pop culture. A shortlist of his sartorial highlights include bringing BAPE to the masses, introducing Billionaire Boys Club, collaborating with luxury houses like Louis Vuitton and Chanel – which paved the way for Kanye West and Virgil Abloh – and becoming arguably the most important member of the adidas Originals family.

Pharrell's done enough in fashion and music that you could write a book about it. In fact, there are two books about his achivements: 2012's Places and Spaces I've Been and 2018's A Fish Doesn't Know It's Wet. However, we're honing on his collaborative footwear history today – from his earliest efforts with Nike to his above-mentioned partnership with adidas. Let's dive into the world of Skateboard P!

N.E.R.D. x Nike Dunk High
,N.E.R.D. x Nike Dunk High
N.E.R.D. x Nike Dunk High

Nike (2004)

In 2004, Pharrell and his N.E.R.D. bandmates Chad Hugo and Shay Hailey were sitting on a duo of gold-selling albums (2001's In Search of ... and 2004's Fly or Die), while Pharrell and Hugo had another gold album of their own as The Neptunes (2003's The Neptunes Present ... Clones) plus his debut hit featuring Jay-Z: 'Frontin'. All this is to say that they were at the tip-top of pop culture, and Nike took notice of their stature.

The Swoosh included N.E.R.D. in the 2004 instalment of their 'Artist Series', an initiative that began in 2003 and tapped actors, musicians, artists and other influential figures to design their own special shoes. Pharrell and crew opted for the Dunk High, dressing it in black tumbled leather while adding red and silver accents – the most notable of which were N.E.R.D.'s signature lightbulb brain logos on the heel and tongue. The design was limited to a run of 1,050 individually-numbered pairs and sold out almost instantly. The group's Dunk High was in good company as well: the other Artist Series drops from 2004 were the ESPO x Nike Air Force 2 (the ultimate see-through sneaker) and the Halle Berry x Nike Air Rift, arguably the most random colab the Artist Series ever produced!

ICECREAM x Reebok Boutique
ICECREAM x Reebok Boardflip
ICECREAM x Reebok Boardflip 2
ICECREAM x Reebok ComplexCon Collection
ICECREAM x Reebok Question Low
Billionaire Boys Club x Reebok Zig Kinetica
,Billionaire Boys Club x Reebok Instapump Fury BOOST

ICECREAM/Billionaire Boys Club x Reebok (2004-2007, 2019-Present)

As Pharrell's personal style became heavily influenced by his friendship with BAPE founder Nigo, he made BAPE's bright graphics, bold patterns and signature camo de rigueur for rappers and cool kids alike. He also worked with Nigo, SK8THING and Toby Feltwell to launch his own BAPE-adjacent brands, ICECREAM and Billionaire Boys Club. Though Billionaire Boys Club was the first of the two brands to debut, making a memorable cameo in the music video for Pharrell's 2003 hit 'Frontin', ICECREAM was the first to produce sneakers. They collaborated with Reebok for the Flavour, a shoe that was covered in ICECREAM's signature 'diamond and dollar' or 'beeper' prints, arrived in special ice cream-inspired packaging and was first revealed by Pharrell in another famous music video, namely 2004's 'Drop It Like It's Hot'.

Where Billionaire Boys Club was more focused on the streetwear market, ICECREAM gravitated more towards the world of skateboarding, and Pharrell tapped skate industry figure Nino Scalia to put together an ICECREAM skate team that included members like Terry Kennedy and Jimmy Gorecki. After the success of the Flavour in 2004, Pharrell wound up suing Reebok in 2005 due to quality standard and distribution issues, and the two mutually agreed to part ways, with Pharrell moving BBC and ICECREAM operations to Japan. However, Reebok still held the licence to produce ICECREAM footwear and created the Board Flip, which was heavily spotlighted in Team Ice Cream: Vol. 1 in 2006 and followed by the Board Flip II – the final ICECREAM skate shoe – in 2007.

After a twelve-year hiatus, ICECREAM and Reebok got back together in 2019 with a collection that included bright, nostalgic takes on silhouettes like Allen Iverson's classic Answer V, the BB4000 and the Zig Kinetica. In 2020, they'd continue the partnership with a set of Question Lows, and Billionaire Boys Club got in on the mix for the first time ever with special Zig Kineticas and Instapump Fury BOOSTs.

Pharrell x BAPE Road Sta
Pharrell x BAPE Road Sta
Pharrell x BAPE Road Sta
Pharrell x BAPE Road Sta
Pharrell x BAPE Road Sta

Pharrell x BAPE (2006)

From the turn of the century to 2008, Pharrell was hardly seen without a piece of BAPE clothing on. He became the public face of the brand, and although BAPE's popularity was flagging in Japan during the mid-aughts it gained a large, new set of global fans thanks to Pharrell's ceaseless championing of its signature pieces – and the famous BAPE character generator that accompanied his 2005 solo album In My Mind, which let fans customise their own 8-bit BAPE character.

Among all of Pharrell's wonderfully whimsical BAPE outfits, he even worked on his own set of BAPE sneakers, dropping a three-pack of special ROAD STAs in 2006. Each featured a vivid metallic leather construction, collage-like colourblocking and a heel 'air' unit (the BAPE STA is far from the only BAPE shoe that draws inspiration from Nike!), but the most notable detail was provided by a familiar 8-bit image of Pharrell's face on the heel. Skateboard P was no stranger to exclusive BAPE pieces, but having his own shoes was unique, especially because they were the first-ever ROAD STA colabs. There was also an ultra-rare N.E.R.D BAPE STA that was released the same year. In 2021, all three colourways of the ROAD STA were revived for a retro release, sans the signature face detail on the heel.

Bee Line x Timberland 6-Inch Workboot
Bee Line x Timberland 6-Inch Workboot
Bee Line x Timberland 6-Inch Workboot
Bee Line x Timberland
Bee Line x Timberland

BEE Line x Timberland (2012-Present)

Things had changed for Pharrell in the 2010s. Nigo departed BAPE in 2011 and sold his remaining stake in the company in 2013, and Skateboard P himself had discarded the shark hoodies, gigantic chains and patent leather sneakers of the 2000s, instead opting to toe the line between high fashion pieces and menswear. His new look was equal parts rapper and hipster, and, once again, sent everyone scrambling to switch their steez up. Two important parts of this transformation occurred when he became the creative director of Bionic Yarn – a company that spins plastic waste into high-grade textiles – in 2010 and partnered with designer Mark McNairy to launch BEE Line in 2012.

BEE Line, a high-end, preppy, made in the USA offshoot of Billionaire Boys Club, quickly locked in a collaboration with Timberland and produced their first product: an olive green take on the classic 6 Inch boot. Things really took off in 2014 though, with the introduction of an all-red 6 Inch boot. The design was classic Pharrell, capturing the zeitgeist's love of all-red sneakers but doing it with a luxurious spin.

In 2015, the two put out a duo of patterned boots woven from Bionic Yarn's recycled materials, the 'Grass' and the 'Honeycomb' – the latter of which was sported by Beyonce and Rihanna – plus a set of brogued boots that drew from Pharrell's jazz influences and an all-blue 6 Inch. This spate of styles wound up securing Pharrell and Timberland the 2015 'Collaboration of the Year' award from Footwear News. The Bee Line x Timberland partnership is still going strong today, thanks to styles like rubber-toed 6 Inch boots and multiple sets of bonafide hiking footwear.

Pharrell x adidas Superstar
,Billionaire Boys Club x adidas Stan Smith
Pharrell x adidas Hu NMD
Pharrell x adidas Hu NMD
Pharrell x adidas Hu NMD TR
Pharrell x Chanel x adidas Hu NMD TR
Billionaire Boys Club x adidas Hu NMD TR 'N.E.R.D.'
Pharrell x adidas Crazy BYW 2.0
Pharrell x adidas Tennis Collection
Billionaire Boys Club x adidas Hu NMD
Pharrell x adidas Humanrace Sichona

Pharrell x adidas (2014-Present)

Running steady for almost a decade and never lacking for fresh releases, the partnership between Pharrell and adidas could be its own article! Skateboard P officially signed on with the Three Stripes in 2014, and began making headlines almost immediately. His first colab with the brand was a set of hand-painted Stan Smiths that were sold at colette to raise funds for charity, then a trio of solid-coloured Stan Smiths, accompanied by leather Three Stripe jackets similar to the one he wore with his famous Vivienne Westwood hat at the 2014 Grammys.

In March 2015, the collection went to another level with the 'Supercolour' pack, a set of 50(!) monochromatic Superstars that encompassed the entire colour spectrum. At the end of the year, adidas announced that it sold a whopping 15 million pairs of Superstars, more than any other style they'd produced. That sales figure proved Pharrell's influence in a tangible, dollars-and-cents way, and was a foreshadowing of the partnership's success to come for the rest of the decade and beyond.

In 2016, lightweight, low-cut BOOST madness was in full effect thanks to Kanye West and adidas' Yeezy line, the success of the Yeezy BOOST 350 and the sneaker-loving public's affection for the NMD line, so Pharrell threw his hat in the ring with the first-ever Hu NMD, a yellow and black style that spelled out 'Human Race' on its upper and was quickly joined by a full set of 'Human Race' Hu NMDs.

Moving to 2017, Pharrell stepped into the world of tennis with the 'Quiet Please' collection of performance tennis apparel and footwear, and re-worked the Stan Smith to create the Tennis Hu. Most notably, he bolstered the Hu NMD line with the ever Hu NMD TR, a chunky-soled iteration of the Hu NMD. The Hu NMD TR had quite a debut, thanks in large part to an ultra-rare Chanel colab that retailed for €1000 and immediately begun reselling for upwards of €10,000! Also seen were a N.E.R.D. Hu NMD TR, the first N.E.R.D. sneaker since 2006's BAPE STAs and a multitude of vibrant in-line colourways. Basketball shoes were also introduced to the mix with Pharrell's first iteration of the Crazy BYW.

2018 saw the introduction of the SOLARHU runner and the first-ever Billionaire Boys Club x adidas Hu NMD. In 2019, Pharrell brought his old friend Nigo back into the mix and Nigo added Human Made graphics to both the Hu NMD Trail and SOLARHU. Open-toe shoe lovers were also blessed with the adilette 2.0 sandal.

To kick off the current decade, Pharrell and adidas expanded their partnership even further. The two worked on football boots, high-cut sneakers that featured adidas' 4D technology, regular sides with BOOST cushioning and an all-black pack of adidas silhouettes both new and classic. The key pieces of the two's 2021 release line were a selection of Billionaire Boys Club Hu NMDs and a brand new silhouette dubbed the Humanrace Sichonia, a hybrid silhouette that Pharrell viewed as an 'extension of the human body' with an advanced direct-inject casting method. In the future, we've got the boot-like Hu NMD S1 RYAT to look forward to, proof that Skateboard P never stops innovating!

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