Billionaire Boys Club, the clothing label founded by Pharrell Williams and Nigo in 2005, has undergone significant shifts during its 12-year lifespan. There was a short-lived deal with Reebok that ended with an out-of-court settlement, a British licensing deal that saw a number of names* helping expand the brand’s flagship in England, and last year, Pharrell Williams and his partners bought out the 50% stake formerly owned by ICONIX brand group,
”We made the best decision for the brand,” says Pharrell. ”We just felt that it would be better for us to get full ownership of the brands back and control our own destiny.”
Indeed, BBC kicked off 2017 with a revamped and relocated flagship store in SoHo. Moving from its West Broadway location, the new BBC store is located off of Mercer Street, and not only stocks its in-house labels, but also feels a bit like a museum, replete with pillows from Takashi Murakami, high-end toys from Medicom, and interiors by Snarkitecture.
In addition to BBC and ICECREAM, the new store is also a hub for Pharrell’s myriad of adidas collaborations, and labels by BBC friends and family, like Nigo’s HUMAN MADE collection, and Cactus Plant Flea Market, an art project by iamOTHER associate Cynthia Lu, which manifests in the form of handpainted hoodies, T-shirts, and psychedelic tie-dye shorts. For Pharrell, taking destiny back into his own hands has been a great move.
”Turns out we made the right call, as the business has been re-energized.”
Now, the label is setting its sights on putting some of that revitalized energy behind Bee Line, Billionaire Boys Club’s higher-end offering. Previous creative leads in the past have included designers like Christopher Bevans and Mark McNairy, but now, the reins will be taken up by Noah founder Brendon Babenzien.
It’s important to note that this new undertaking will mean a lot more than just new collections. For Babenzien, it’s a way for him to instill his anti-corporate values within the framework of a much larger company than his own. As someone who’s witnessed the street fashion industry evolve from subversive to mainstream, it’s a key opportunity for him to keep the brand honest on his terms.
Noah, like its sister company Aprix, is a brand built on strong ideals, and uses its platform to express its values whenever it can. Take for example, Babenzien’s latest collaboration with MR PORTER. At face value, it was a way for him to put his label in the context of the retailer’s other high-end offerings. But he was able to use the partnership as a way to push Noah’s attention to fabrics and ethically-made product.
Anyone remotely familiar with the Billionaire Boys Club label is familiar with the oft-printed adage on many of its clothes: ”Wealth is of the heart and mind, not the pocket.” It’s a quote by Pharrell that Babenzien interprets differently with his approach to Bee Line. After all, he’s a staunch proponent of consumers voting with their dollars. And in a political paradigm where being conscious about the ideals of whatever entities you support is more important than ever, he’s using Bee Line as a platform to remind people that their monetary vote counts.
“Your money is a weapon,” he says. “How you spend your money is the best way to affect change.”
So what exactly are people supporting when they buy into the new Bee Line collection? Babenzien’s first Bee Line collection is ”Army of Lovers.” Loosely, it’s a collection that stands against hate, not just a cultural zeitgeist that’s seen an alarming rise in far-right ideology, but also the theoretical hate of large corporate entities against the common working class.
Babenzien used a lot of his sustainably sourced fabrics and also tapped plenty of the same manufacturers he uses for Noah. He describes his manufacturers as, “working-class people with families, not fat cats who pay nothing to produce the cheapest garments.” That means the collection has a higher price point than BBC’s other offerings, but Pharrell agrees that the price is correlated with the construction and quality of the garments, as opposed to having people pay simply for the name on the label.
”Customers today are educated about their options,” he says. ”So if you deliver a premium product, they will understand.”
The graphics are inspired by Tom Tom Club’s song ”Genius of Love,” and the academic and military influences round out Babenzien’s very particular aesthetic, with a few nods to classic aviators that align with BBC’s motifs of flight and space travel. Statement pieces like a sheepskin flight suit from Cockpit and herringbone twill flight pants balance out graphic-print tees made in the USA, and beefy jersey sweats made of substantial Canadian fleece.
”He’s obviously a super talented guy but I didn’t want him to have to stick to any narrative,” adds Pharrell. “As a creative guy there’s nothing worse than being given too many rules and restrictions. He designed a collection which I love, and is the direction I was hoping for Bee Line.”
The new Bee Line collection releases online today, and is otherwise exclusive to BBC’s flagship stores in Tokyo, New York, and London. It’s one small step for the label, but could be a giant leap for how companies in BBC’s realm think about how to stay relevant and rebellious as their peers grow more mainstream.
Now see Brendon Babenzien and MR PORTER’s Buying Manager, Sam Lobban, talk about how to wear a suit today.