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.

About the author

Tyler Gray is the former Editorial Director of Fast Company and co-author of the book The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), out in fall 2014. He previously authored The Hit Charade for HarperCollins and has written for The New York Times, SPIN, Blender, Esquire, and others.

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