Written by Samutaro
When Pharrell and NIGO linked up to create BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB AND ICECREAM in 2005, the project was destined for nothing but greatness. A story of hearts and minds, the dynamic duo first came together through a shared passion for expensive jewelry, but it was their broader appreciation for music, style, and culture that became the catalyst for one of the most culturally important clothing brands of a generation to be born.
Pharrell already had plans for BBC before he had met NIGO, but making connections in Tokyo changed its trajectory for the better. “We showed them our world, which I think was something different than what they had seen before,” says Toby Feltwell (formerly NIGO’s chief-of-staff at BAPE) in Pharrell’s Rizzoli book, Pharrell: Places and Spaces I’ve Been. “They asked if NIGO would help advise,” he says, going on to reveal that NIGO was on board immediately. Not only would NIGO advise but he offered to design the whole line for them too. “I wouldn’t have done it for anyone else,” NIGO said in the book. “It was a big thing for me–I would have to give up all my secrets.”
Everything from the astronaut logo to the creative advisory to the designs was created over one dinner. “Pharrell had a clear idea and brand concept and the astronaut logo would be the key to all of it. I knew what he wanted and I took his instructions to Sk8thing and we worked on it,” says Feltwell, who said by the time they reached a Tokyo nightclub to cap off the night, Sk8thing, one of A Bathing Ape’s leading graphic designers at the time had already devised a rough draft of the now iconic astronaut logo. “Pharrell was into it…that kind of sealed the deal.”
It was quickly apparent to Pharrell that NIGO and his team quickly had an intuitive way of understanding his expectations despite the language barrier. The blend of Williams’ fervent imagination and NIGO’s calculating and experienced business nous had formed an emphatic partnership. “One of the challenges of working with someone like Pharrell, who has a very strong visual sense but was communicating verbally for the most part, could be knowing whether you’ve got the picture right,” says Feltwell. “I think NIGO and I were always able to understand his ideas to a degree that actually made it a pleasure to work that way.”
Adopting the guerilla marketing tactics that proved so successful to BAPE, BBC/ICECREAM launched to international acclaim. BBC’s vibrant, futuristic approach to streetwear and ICECREAM high end take on skateboarding captured the attention of a broad market of consumers both in the US and Japan. From staunch Japanese NIGO disciples, to stateside hip-hop icons and skate kids who were into high fashion, the influential and influenced were fully signed up to the BBC.
Not only did the two brands offer an entirely new expression to high-end sportswear but they changed the way brands operated too. By pioneering collaborations between brands; keeping product runs tight and exclusive so as to create scarcity and foment intrigue; teasing products in Pharrell’s music videos; establishing clear, concise iconography that was instantly recognizable; bringing together the worlds of youth fashion, skateboarding and high-end luxury, BBC/ICECREAM became the blueprint for desire. From the early collaboration with Reebook, to BBC’s debut in the music video for ‘Frontin’, those insane Wonderwall store fits, or the fact that Pharrell was the first ever rapper with a skate team, it's clear to see how far ahead BBC/ICECREAM was, and why it remains a irresistible force in streetwear twenty years on.
But more than just clothing, BBC/ICECREAM came loaded with a more powerful message aimed to educate his audience on the importance of mental wellbeing. A core part of this message was BBC ICECREAM’s alternative definition and core value of wealth, seen in the aspirational mantra: "Wealth is of the heart and mind, not of the pocket". At its core, the slogan taught his community that money can line your pockets, but it can't enrich your life. For Pharrell, sharing these codes of empowerment were just as important, if not more than dripping kids out in the flyest streetwear. Afterall, the name “Billionaire Boys Club” was chosen with an irony meant to provoke thought.
It helped of course that the hoodies, tees and signature skate shoes were endorsed by influential artists of the era; The Clipse, Kanye, Tyler, the Creator and the Teriyaki Boyz. And then there’s the ICECREAM skate team, a crew of mainly Black skaters including Terry Kennedy, Jacob Wilder, Kevin Brooker, Cato Williams and Philly teen Jimmy Gorecki. While Pharrell saw the skate team as an opportunity to give back to a community that had inspired him, it had a huge impact on skateboarding and streetwear at large. This global community surrounding BBC/ICECREAM helped redefine the relationship between skateboarding, hip-hop and fashion in a way that had never been done before.
In many ways, looking back it's clear to see that BBC was way ahead of the general perception of the brand. As Toby Feltwell noted in Pharrell’s Rizzoli book, “Pharrell: Places and Spaces I’ve Been,” the creative team was always keen to move forward quickly and not retread old ground. “It was not strongly motivated by commercial considerations,” he reveals, going on to explain that Pharrell’s popularity in the public eye and simplicity of the clothes might’ve given the impression that they were churning out cheap stuff with a massive markup. But that wasn't the case at all. Initially all the clothes were produced in Japan, from tees to denim, suits and socks. “The reality was quite the opposite - we didn't; charge a full standard margin because we wanted to keep stuff more affordable.
Always staying true to his vision, Pharrell foresaw streetwear taking off in countries like Japan, and he was successful in using BBC to bring it to America-just as he had done with BAPE just a few years earlier. It was around 2003 when Pharrell had returned from his first trip to Japan, loaded with the freshest BAPE clothing and sneakers that he would introduce to a whole new audience via music videos, interview spots on TV and red carpet events often in tandem with NIGO.
It was this shared friendship in the public eye that helped forge an even stronger bridge between Japan and America. For the past twenty years, the duo have established themselves as the Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in street culture, influencing not only one anothers creative output and personalities, but helping shape design, fashion and contemporary lifestyle in the process. The two were almost inseparable during the early to mid 00s, regularly appearing together at high profile events in coordinated fits from their respective brands. Their attendance on the red carpet at the MTV VMA’s in 2006 is perhaps one of the most memorable with each dripped down in the latest BAPE, BBC and Ice Cream. It's a look that continues to be circulated today on pages like @hidden.ny, @icecreambillionaire and @startraknerd which celebrate the all inspiring universe NIGO and Pharrell have created together.
NIGO admitted in the Rizolli book that his fame and impact couldn’t have been achieved without Pharrell’s recognition and collaboration. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t met him and worked. I don’t think I could have made it out of Japan: that was something I really wanted to achieve.” The same can be said about Pharrell’s step into fashion with BBC/ICECREAM, which NIGO had laid the groundwork with BAPE in the decade prior. Pharrell returned the sentiment in the book explaining how “Nigo made his dreams reality,” and how important he was to shaping his identity today. “I met someone who believed in me and introduced me to new art, design, fashion, food…BBC means the ripening of my taste buds and personality.”
It’s this shared wisdom, camaraderie and progressive approach design that has enabled BBC/ICECREAM to leave such a strong legacy and impact on streetwear. It’s no wonder that fans of the brand continue to covet and collect the original designs from the early era and why big names like Don Toliver front the brand, or why influential young designers like VANDYTHE PINK choose to collaborate with them. By continuing to place creativity and community at the core of the brand, BBC/ICECREAM remains at the forefront of culture for a new generation.