Pharrell Williams was an admittedly lazy employee mopping McDonald's floors as a teen in Virginia Beach, Va. And though he loved snacking on McNuggets more than he actually enjoyed the job, he does have fond memories of what he bought with the money he earned. "I saved up my first check from working at McDonald's to buy a discounted pair of Adidas," recalls the 43-year-old acclaimed producer and designer. "I'll never forget, they were the red and gold Instincts. After that was a [Los Angeles] Lakers-esque mustard and purple low-top pair. I didn't have enough money to buy clothes, so my mom still had to chip in and buy my clothes for the school year."
For every sentence that Williams utters while nestled here in the corner of the Adidas booth at the first annual ComplexCon - the expo set in Long Beach, Calif., that showcases and aligns music with fashion and pop culture - an audience of his fans and followers grows by two to four people. All are either trying to eavesdrop or aim to linger long enough to snag a picture. Amazingly, Williams keeps his focus on the conversation at hand and his eyes (hidden under white Chanel sunglasses) away from the 50 locked on him.
"I never ever dreamed in a million years that I would end up here," he says. Today, the kid who scraped together his cash for Adidas kicks is now promoting clothes and sneakers from his Hu collection, which is produced through his now two-year-old partnership with Adidas Originals. "It's been crazy, having a brand with Adidas and doing things collaboratively with them," Pharrell says as he shakes his head in disbelief. Then he lists the good company he's in at Adidas: "Kanye [West], Stella McCartney, Jeremy [Scott], Yohji [Yamamoto]."
Williams' latest line is Hu Holiday, out in stores Thursday. It's the second iteration of Hu, which dropped at the end of September. This time, pieces that range from bucket hats to backpacks, tennis skirts to track jackets feature images of geometric triangle motifs and Japanese Katakana all-over prints.
Overall, Williams' goal for Hu is simple: Galvanize. Throughout his more than 20-year career, Williams has been known as a purveyor of cool, seemingly able to make whatever he's wearing suddenly an "It" brand (the Smokey the Bear hat, for example) and providing the Midas touch to whichever artist he produced music for. Now his objective is to attach a greater message to his apparel. Pieces from the September line, which are still available online starting at $70, feature the phrase "Human Race" translated in English, French and Japanese languages on them.
A photo posted by Pharrell Williams (@pharrell) on Nov 10, 2016 at 1:05pm PST
"There was an opportunity to use this moment - this agreement between Adidas and myself - to do something for other people," Williams explains, "while we made creative, interesting, cool technology that services the body. That's what HU is. HU [stands for] Health Ultimatum. [I'm asking,] 'How can we strive for betterment in our work?' That's why you see all the different colors and languages. We're ultimately trying to bring people together."
While crediting Adidas' Global Category Director, Statement Collaborations Rachel Muscat, who is sitting to his left, for bringing him on board, Williams says they're trying to promote messages of unity without "sounding preachy. It can also just look cool as f - . It can feel cool as f - . It can sound cool as f - . That's what we're doing. What can I do to make your life better for your mind body and soul? And I'm not talking granola and shit. I'm talking about cool. Cool is healthy."
As far as ideal customers, Williams isn't targeting any specific race or age group, he says while scrunching his face in admonishment of such monotonous boardroom speak.
"We don't make anything for demographics as much as we make things for ambitions," Williams elaborates. "If you've got the ambition to just do better, this is for you. [Hu] is not gender-specific. It's not sexually orientated. It's just for human beings with ambitions of better days."
This article first appeared on Billboard.com.