From Louis Vuitton To Daft Punk, How Pharrell Williams Is The Ultimate Collaborator

Getting lucky has only a little to do with Williams's success. The star producer and mega-hyphenate talks about how he keeps his ego in check in "the relentless pursuit of action."

If you didn't know who Pharrell Williams was before this past April, you almost certainly do now.

That's because Williams is the vaguely Michael Jackson-sounding singer in a Hedi Slimane-designed sparkly suit in the video for "Get Lucky." The chart-topping song from Daft Punk's Random Access Memories sold more than 2.5 million copies just one week after the album came out, and has nearly 60 million Vevo plays. The song and Pharrell are almost literally everywhere.

But don't mistake him for a front man. Williams, 40, is a behind-the-scenes creative and design force for fashion labels—Louis Vuitton and his own Ice Cream Clothing and Billionaire Boys Club. He's helping pioneer a new sustainable clothing material and manufacturing process called Bionic Yarn. He created sonic branding platform UJAM and accompanying app VJAM with composer Hans Zimmer. He's won four Grammys, created the original score for Despicable Me, and worked as a producer on too many music projects to list. When he lends his name to a promotion for, say, HTC, it's because he actually wants to share big ideas with the company, not just rock the launch party.

As he told Fast Company at a recent VIP dinner, part of our recent Innovation Uncensored New York event, he feels most rewarded when he's learning on the job. Watch an excerpt from that conversation above, or listen below to the whole interview—with more on Williams's Daft Punk collaboration and a story about the time he made Madonna cry.

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  • Mark

    A great post with some even better audio content. Having just uncovered this post it left me hungry for more and to learn more from the Innovation Uncensored event. I noticed a lot of sound clips, but are there more videos from the event, particularly a full streaming of Pharrell's speech?

  • Katie Smart

    Wait.. seriously... "If you didn't know who Pharrell Williams was before this past April?"  That should have read "I didn't know who Pharrell was before the past April" because more people in this world know who Pharrell Williams is than who Daft Punk is.  Pharrell has been a staple in entertainment for years. This article is ridiculous from an "editorial director"

  • Jonny Smarter

    And your comment should have read 'I knew who Pharrell Williams was before April - aren't I cool..' Also, Daft Punk are better known than Pharrell - but seriously, they're both creative forces with integrity - that's more important than notoriety.

  • Tyler Fastcompany Gray

    So you think every person who reads this already knows Pharrell? That no one is just discovering him by way of a song that sold more than 3 million copies, is advertised everywhere, is blaring from radios and sound systems everywhere from a public elementary school street fair on the Lower East Side to the Moscone Center during Apple's WWDC? If you read past the first half of the first sentence, then (see what I did there with the if/then construction?) you'll see where I address his illustrious career. I thank you for reading and commenting, but allow me to, respectfully, editorially direct you to the rest of the story.

  • bill edwards

    Pharrell has been relevant since, at the latest, 2002 with the whole Atlanta hip hop sound. It lead to collabs with Timberlake and many others, and was his most visible productive period. Tyler, you've done a fantastic job framing the Pharrell that's now mostly behind the scenes and who has his hands in a lot of wonderful projects.