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Pharrell Williams Talks Beauty, Business and Energy

Pharrell Williams shares his brand development process, as well as how he selects his leadership teams.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Pharrell Williams insists that he does, in fact, age.

Asked for his age-defying secrets, the musician, producer and entrepreneur eventually landed on good vibes and humidity.

But first, he demurred — “I do age,” Williams told the crowd of beauty executives at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit. “I happen to be one of those people, I think wrinkles are beautiful.”

Williams joined WWD and Beauty Inc executive editor Jenny B. Fine for a conversation on beauty, humanity and business.

“Beauty is really, honestly, a spiritual thing, first and foremost. You can see someone that’s textbook beautiful, but it’s what comes out of their mouth or the energy that they vibrate that tells you if they really are beautiful,” Williams said. 

In terms of the secret, I would say it is genetics, it’s environmental and it’s dietary, and it’s also what Dr. Elena Jones, my dermatologist, taught me. It is routine. That’s the one thing you can actually control,” Williams continued. 

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Williams partnered with Jones to launch Humanrace, a line of products that started with a three-step skin care routine, in 2021. The brand now sells across categories, including body care, ceramics, and clothing and footwear in partnership with Adidas.

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Humanrace’s core skin care offering includes a rice powder cleanser, lotus enzyme exfoliator and humidifying cream.

The brand started in skin care, something Williams, 49, has been asked about for years.

“I’ve gone through all kinds of products. Over-the-counter, prescription, everything — [Jones] ran me through the gamut as an exercise of not only testing things out, but also experimenting with what was going on to figure out what was for me. This was before we ever talked about doing a brand,” he said.

When it came time to create the concept for the line, “I knew we needed like, a really good cleanser, and I knew that I would need something to exfoliate, because that was the one thing she taught me,” Williams said. “When we came to those two things, we knew we needed that, but then it was like, the idea of something being dewy — we were like, OK, clearly there’s a room that owns that,” Williams joked, referencing the crowd.

So instead, the Humanrace team started thinking about the areas of the world where people age well. They noticed a thread of kindness, and another of humidity, and an aha moment was born.

“How do we synthesize the effects of being in a humid climate? That’s how we came up with our humidifying moisturizer,” Williams said.

Humanrace’s products are gender-neutral, and are meant to attract men who may not want to commit to 45 minutes with an aesthetician, but would be willing to spend three minutes on a skin care routine.

Wellness is at the core of the offering, Williams said. “The idea and the concept of people being well is where we start, and we just want to go from category to category to try to make your experience on this earth better than the way it was,” Williams said.

Humanrace’s products were formulated in line with EU ingredient standards, and Williams commended the crowd for their commitment to bettering product ingredients.

“The industry you think is the most vain happens to be the one that is the most considerate,” he said. “You talk with each other…you might be competitors, but you’re reaching out. What a world it would be if fashion and footwear and apparel did that.”

Williams is not just a Grammy-winning musician. He’s also an astute businessman who has numerous products happening at any given time. In addition to Humanrace, he’s working on a music festival called Something in the Water to be held June 17 to 19 in Washington, D.C., and he founded the clothing line Billionaire Boys Club in 2003. Regardless of the enterprise, he said he always starts with intuition, but quickly follows it up with data. “There’s a rain stick in one hand and a computer [in the other]. It has to make sense,” Williams said.

He also advised the crowd that when building teams to look for fellow leaders who were on the same wavelength. Being good at the job is half of the hire, but the other half, Williams said, is “do they subscribe to your POV of how to get from A to Z.” If so, they would be a good fit, because they would be able to translate a founder’s intuition, he noted.

When it comes to his businesses, for Williams, it all comes back to music, which he calls “the skeleton key that’s opened every door for me,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to meet the right people.”

“What I’m good at is being a musician and a composer, and that’s really what you’re doing when you’re building leadership — composing,” Williams said. “You are bringing together a symphony of experts to bring about this new harmony as a solution for something you’re trying to solve.”

While not all of his endeavors have panned out, Humanrace has. The line is distributed on its own website, as well as through Goop, Ssense and Dover Street Market. Williams said added retail distribution will be happening in the “short term.”

Outside of beauty, Willams continues to work with Black Ambition, an organization he founded that distributes prize money and mentorship to Black and Latinx-founded businesses. The organization teams up with historically Black colleges and universities in order to find and fund entrepreneurs with good ideas, Williams said.

“We want to give them that strategic scaffolding so you can not only be funded, but you can have your hand held and sort of walk you through the troubles of what’s going to happen to you, what you’re going to face,” Williams said. The fund has raised $50 million, and the 34 companies Black Ambition has worked with generated $40 million in revenue in one year, he said.

He advised executives looking to get involved with Black Ambition as mentors to contact Felecia Hatcher, the group’s CEO.

“When you see a Black company or a Latinx company or a person of color’s company, do what you do in this room. Lean in, ask questions, ask if they need help,” Williams advised the group. “Energy’s a very real thing. That’s what karma is on a very basic level, cause and effect.”

“The universe is alive, it’s moving. It was here before you, it’ll be here after you, and it will give back to you. So when you see a founder of color who has a company and they’re in this space, lean in the same way you are in this room. It’s going to be awesome,” Williams said. “This is the beauty summit. I don’t think anything could be more beautiful.”

 

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