This interview was first published in November 2020. It is being reshared today, March 10, as the skincare products (which swiftly sold out) are finally getting a restock. Shop the collection here and let Pharrell Williams guide you through his brand below.
To see the direction fashion is heading in, at any given time, take what Pharrell Williams was doing three years before. The American musician and entrepreneur has long cross-pollinated once isolated creative disciplines in a way that has pushed the industry forward in more ways than one.
Refusing to be pigeon holed as a musician alone, Pharrell launched era-defining streetwear brands Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM with Nigo in 2005. That same year, long before product collaborations became the flavor of the day for the wider industry, he partnered with Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton on a now iconic ‘Millionaire’ eyewear range. In doing so, he evolved the relationship between celebrities and brands from mundane endorsements to a more nuanced form of co-creation, serving as a bridge between luxury and contemporary youth culture.
He’s carried this approach to creative direction and unrivaled taste into wide ranging partnerships over the past 15 years. From exhibiting a line of chairs at Gallerie Perrotin, partnering on water buffalo leather bikes for Domeau & Pérès, and working with Parisian patisserie L’Adurée on snackable macarons, to collaborating with some of fashion’s bigger players including Moncler, G-Star Raw, Uniqlo, Comme des Garçons, Moynat and Chanel, once again the creative polymath showcased the power of personal branding — all while receiving Grammy and Oscar nominations and releasing chart topping singles.
Under ‘i am OTHER’ — Pharrell’s multimedia creative collective that serves as an umbrella for all his fashion, media and technology endeavors — he continued to build out a new working template for those operating between disciplines.
And then came Humanrace, Pharrell’s “universe of product and people” whose name is a riff on that of his long-standing partnership with adidas dubbed Hu (short for Human).
“You know, when I first started working with adidas, I was asked by someone [in press], ‘Well man, you're an artist, not an athlete. How did that work with adidas? What sport do you play for?’ And I said, ‘the human race,’” Pharrell tells Highsnobiety.
To be human starts on the inside, he believes. So Humanrace’s debut product line is in skincare. If not to answer that damn question everyone’s been asking Pharrell for years “how come this 47-year old man just doesn’t age?” A burning question to many, answered at last.
Developed in consultation with Pharrell’s dermatologist of 20 years, Dr. Elena Jones, MD, the clean, all-gender Humanrace Skincare line consists of three vegan and sustainable products, Rice Powder-to-Foam Cleanser ($32), Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator ($46), and Humidifying Cream ($48). All are engineered with sustainability at the forefront of creation. The signature green packaging including braille, serves as carefully designed objects meant to last on your shelf. All its actual contents are both recyclable and can be ordered as refillables.
“Humanrace Skincare doesn’t differentiate by race or gender. We’re creating for humans; we’re all born in the same skin,” explains Pharrell.
Pharrell knows what’s next, and so alongside Humanrace’s President, Rachel Muscat, he explains.
On Founding Humanrace
“When we started working on the shoe design [at adidas] we knew it was going to be something for the human race. And so that just became the inspo. And here we were, making shoes with these positive affirmations on them and people were paying for them. It was this amazing case study [where] people would pay for something positive coming from me and coming from my group. And there, the Humanrace concept was born. I suppose, everything after it, up until now which is skincare, we've just been literally thinking to ourselves what category makes sense next? For me, any category that we step into we want to make it better than the way we found it.” — Pharrell Williams.
“It's definitely exciting to think about the opportunity of what it can be and the visions that we have for it. I think the heart of that is really about how we help people have the tools themselves. We talk about this universe for product and people. My background has been doing collaborations with different artists and brands when I was at adidas, but it was always about if the product wasn't true to the person or the brand that you're working with, it just won't resonate with the consumer. And I think that's where we've taken it very much with Pharrell and really built this first line to connect with that truth of the product.” — Rachel Muscat.
On Entering the Skincare Market
“I think there's room under the sun for everyone, first and foremost. There are a lot of innovators in the [skincare] space doing great things, and they’re doing it their way. I guess it’s the same reason why I enter any platform or artistic discipline. It’s because I feel like maybe I might be able to offer a unique point of view that doesn't exist, which is usually the motivation for me to enter any kind of space. If it doesn't exist, I'm inspired to check it out and see where it goes.” — Pharrell Williams.
On Innovating the Space
“I think the room that we found is based on us just asking fundamental questions, knowing that you're stepping into a sector and not wanting to make it worse than what it was before. Actually find innovations, find breakthroughs, and answer questions like ‘are we considering the environment? Are we considering the animals that often get tested on? Are we considering the consumer base? Are we thinking about what their experience is going to be?’ Like what are the standards that we're holding each other up to as a team and as a brand. And when you start answering those questions, you start finding out what the convention is, what the custom is, then you figure a way either around it, or through it. It's led us to some breakthroughs, but more than anything else a high level of cognizance and consciousness.” — Pharrell Williams.
“Product creation is really interesting because it does go back to a very similar design of how you design sneakers, where you have to open mold forms to get to that next level of product. That's something that was interesting in the skincare industry. If you open your bathroom cabinet, you realize that a lot of the products actually look very similar because they're using the standard [mold] sizes. It was a huge opportunity for us to kind of [see] where we would invest. And we decided that investing in the innovation was truly an important part for us as a brand. It was an opportunity to create a different voice and challenge the norm.” — Rachel Muscat.
On the Working Process
“The quality is a derivative of our standards and expectations. We’re far from experts, [but] we just cared enough to do the homework. Standards and expectations begets quality. We're nowhere near the best in the space [yet] we always wanted to rise beyond the occasion. You know what I'm saying? So that we know that we're giving the consumer more than what they expected and just so you can sleep well at night, knowing that you did your best. I think that's what you should do in any collaboration. Anything that you do, you should rise beyond above.” — Pharrell Williams.
“Just as an example, the standards for skincare in Europe are incredible. There are 1,300 ingredients that are banned in Europe. In America with the FDA it's 11. So, as a brand you need to really think about [this]. And obviously we wanted to be the cleanest that we can be with the product still working. So working with our dermatologist was critical to ensure that we would literally read every ingredient, all the percentage details. I think we went through two or three rounds with Pharrell just to get the formula right in terms of ingredients and textures.” — Rachel Muscat.
On Evolving the Brand-User Relationship
“The connection between brands and the consumer base had to change. Already pre-pandemic, we were going into a world where everyone was ordering everything from at home, right? So a lot of brands had to figure out how they were going to connect with the audience when this audience was ever so becoming hooked on services like Postmates and Amazon Prime. But then the pandemic happened and we as a species, we thought we've already changed for eternity. We'll never be the same species, right?
There's so much distrust. There's so much division. There's so much misinformation. Anxiety is higher than it's ever been. People thirst to go back to the old world. And so brands have to figure out how to survive in times like these. How do you survive these winds of selfishness and division? Empathy. And when you empathize and you understand where someone's coming from, then you know how to reach them. If you don't know how to empathize, then you'll never connect with them. And that's about being human. It’s about others. The human race.” — Pharrell Williams.
“Everyone can stick their name on something and try to sell it. I think consumers are consumed in this [cycle]. There’s so much right now. You open your inbox and it is flooded with emails. So what is going to cut through as a brand? And that's, I think, where it always goes back to the honesty of the product. I learned a lot from working with Pharrell for as many years as I have. The label on the bottle is as important as the formulation on the inside. We had so many conversations around the soy ink that we were using because we wanted to stay vegan. And it's all those principles that at the end of the day, the customer is either going to want to connect to or not. But you have to. You have to honestly look at it and be like, ‘Yeah that's who we are and that's why we've gone down that path.’” — Rachel Muscat.
On the Genuine Importance of a Skincare Routine
“There’s no use in the world for you to not be able to get it all done in under three minutes. And you don't have to zip through it. Taking the time to cleanse your face, to fully exfoliate, to moisturize, it’s the second most important part of your existence. The first being your spirit, right? Human beings, fleshed spirit. [The face] is the part that communicates with other people, that socializes, that expresses itself. You have hundreds of muscles under your skin that all work in chorus. All these choreographed sets of facial gestures help you to express something very important. Your knees don't express themselves, your elbows don't, but your face does. It has to be given a different kind of time and attention.” — Pharrell Williams.
On the Role of Aesthetics
“[It’s] important. There was a lot of thought given to [the packaging]. It comes from our combined love for Tokyo, the culture, the level of humility there, the managerialism that's there, and the products that are there. You think about the tea ceremonies and think about the way the bowls and the cups are made there and why? So out of appreciation for the function ceremony and that attention to detail I was like, ‘okay, we need that going into our product. We need people to look at our packaging and bottling in the same way that that culture looks at everything that it does.’ It does it for purpose. And it was that kind of thought and ingenuity that was important to us. We knew that it would help set the silhouette of our products aside from everything else. Even down to the color, we really wanted to communicate something that you wouldn't even have to think about.” — Pharrell Williams.
On Great Design
“There are a lot of things that we take for granted. You know that great design most people don't pay attention to. They’re just around it. But that's the coolness and the subtle nature of great design. And I feel like our team really did a good job on designing it. It's kind of one of those unspoken things, but I wanted to kind of speak on it and just say, there was a lot of thought put into it. You have no idea how many creams we went through to get this right cream. Man. I mean, we literally nitpicked. It's been an honor to work with what I find to be truly genius people, both in terms of their book knowledge, and their experience.” — Pharrell Williams.
Humanrace launches today in select markets exclusively on Humanrace.com.