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Interview: Pharrell’s Stylist Mariel Haenn

2014 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival - Weekend 2 - Day 2

Vivienne Westwood’s Mountain Hat. An Adidas track jacket. A pair of Stan Smiths. With those clues, you already know who we’re talking about—even if you’ve only briefly glimpsed at pop culture this year. So far this has been the Year of Pharrell, with the singer-producer-serial collaborator gracing every imaginable award show, network, and stage, hat in tow. What you might not know is that Pharrell Williams’ recent style evolution is not entirely of his own making—he’s had help along the way from stylist duo Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn, who had their big break with Rihanna’s iconic “Umbrella” video in 2007.

Zangardi and Haenn have assisted Pharrell since January with everything from his Coachella set attire to the video for “Marilyn Monroe,” which premiered yesterday. In the fantasy-staged visual, as he serenades myriad ladies, Pharrell gets even more mileage out of his hat in an impressive array of colors, provided by Westwood. One even has a lemon-sized hole, cut personally by Pharrell. We caught up with Haenn over the phone to talk about Pharrell’s DIY fashion sense, how well-loved he is by designers, and his next possible fashion statement.

—Marissa G. Muller,

What kind of direction did Pharrell give you when you started working together?
We got a couple of verbal directives about what he likes: a Wes Anderson vibe for the color palette, woodsy and Boy Scout but not literal—not like patches on the shirt—rugged, chic, and polished yet still very wearable. Not flashy at all.

Did the “Boy Scout” cue prompt his Vivienne Westwood hat?
The hat was totally him. We can’t take any credit for that. It was initially inspired by another hip-hop group from the eighties [The World’s Famous Supreme Team and Malcolm McLaren’s video for their 1982 collaborative single “Buffalo Gals”]. When he sees something he likes, it just clicks and he figures out how to make it a staple.

At this point, does he consider the hat to be his signature?
I think so. He’s gotten so much recognition. I’ve even seen a hat shaped like his cut out of a piece of toast with a red Comme des Garçons heart out of ketchup on Instagram. When you see any hat shaped like that, you automatically associate it with Pharrell, which I think is really smart.

Were you, Rob, and Pharrell surprised by all of the hat jokes that came after he wore it?
Not at all. It was kind of expected. When something is different, there’s a lot to be said about it. But he doesn’t take any of it to heart. He’s comfortable with who he is, so it doesn’t matter what anyone says or thinks. As far as creating an iconic stamp, I think it will be forever his thing. Now he’s doing different colors. We even cut a hole in his hat for the video and the hat he wore at Coachella as well. So he’s finding different ways of doing it.

What’s it like to style someone who’s so involved in the business of fashion?
We love it. He knows what he likes. He paints on his Adidas Stan Smith sneakers, and he’ll bring them over like, “Look at what I brought. Can we figure it out together?” For the “Marilyn Monroe” video, he kept wanting to wear his own thing, but we had so many racks. We were like, “Look what we have.” I think he likes us because we understand his vision and push him—because he’s comfortable with wearing whatever he wore on set for a video. When we met him, he was like, “I’ve never worked with stylists before, but I want to work with you guys.” The only time he had worked with a stylist was when a magazine forced him to, but he was like, “You guys get it.”

Did he paint the shorts he wore to Coachella?
Totally. On our first shoot together, we got a call from someone on his team saying, “We’re going to grab some Sharpie markers. He’s feeling inspired.” He used the Sharpie markers to paint and color his shoes, which was awesome.

In your line of work, is it unusual for a client to be so hands-on?
Yeah, he’s different because he likes to customize his own thing. Jennifer Lopez is pretty involved. She has a good sense of what she wants to do, but she also trusts us to help bring it to fruition. But no one is hands-on, DIY like him.

What’s been the biggest challenge of working with Pharrell?
He’s so specific, wants to be different, and likes dressing down. So we have to find more interesting ways for him to dress casual and still have it be an iconic statement for a video or performance. Usually in videos, people go over the top more than they do in real life, but he just wants to look like himself—we want to make it video-worthy.

How did his shorts suit by Lanvin come about for the Oscars?
He has a really good relationship with Alber [Elbaz]. We didn’t have anything to do with that, but I think it was genius. Nobody would ever do that. The fact that he’s done it is kind of adorable.

For the “Marilyn Monroe” video, was there one stylistic theme?
No, we had to figure out different looks for the different setups. The treatment was really detailed with a lot of different scenarios, so it was tricky to figure out. We had something else planned for the red, white, and blue room, but right before we shot the scene we realized the red, white, and blue striped sweater would work better.

Were there other last-minute changes you had to make?
We had to custom-make an arrow that looked like he got shot in the heart but wouldn’t fall as he walked and danced—and only had one day to do it. So we called a prop guy who we’ve worked with. I don’t want to give away our secrets, but it was basically held on by a magnet. It was kind of like a necklace magnet, but we made it look like we poked a hole in his shirt where the arrow hit.

Have a lot of designers approached you about dressing Pharrell?
When we started doing requests for him on the first job, we quickly found out that everybody is into him. Since he loves fashion and is known for his great collaboration, I kind of figured everybody would be. I was excited to learn how much Chanel enjoys working with him. They did a collaboration where he custom-made a necklace for himself—he wears it in the video. Chanel, Lorraine Schwartz, Hoorsenbuhs, and Ofira are pretty much his go-tos for jewelry.

Where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. It could come from movies, fabric patterns—I’m outside right now looking at a building that has four different colors of paint on it. It’s pretty much anywhere we go. I think I, Rob, and Pharrell work that way. Our moodboard has turned into photostreams on our iPhones since we’re always on the run.

What were the last images you exchanged?
Smaller details like wearing a feather pin instead of a bow tie or tie. A suede string tassel keychain but superlong. We really like details, especially when you’re dressing someone who wants to be dressed down. It’s the little details that make someone stand out.

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