Whether it’s dewy, plumped, smoothed or toned, skincare products often proffer the prospect of physical enhancement. As soon as Pharrell Williams begins expounding on the benefits of his brand, it becomes apparent that this fledgling beauty mogul’s ambitions run deeper.
“Humanrace is about intention. It's about bringing people together: people, not men and women, just humans,” he says.
This week, Williams and his family are in London (“It’s the first time I’ve been out of the US for Thanksgiving”) to unveil his gender-neutral skincare brand Humanrace’s first physical and wholesale manifestation in the UK. Selfridges is adding the brand to its already 300-strong offer across the 45,000-square-foot beauty department in its London flagship, as well as in its Manchester, Birmingham and digital outlets.
Williams launched Humanrace in the US two years ago in partnership with Adidas alum Rachel Muscat, following around three years of development. Along with Dr Elena Jones, a respected dermatologist who has tended to Williams’s skin for two decades, and chief creative officer Edward Robinson, Muscat and the musician turned multi-hyphenate dropped a direct-to-consumer brand whose USP is both distinct and deceptively simple.
Edward Robinson, Pharrell Williams and Rachel Muscat.
Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images
Presented in minimalist, Robinson-designed “post-consumer” recycled plastic pots in a familiarly distinct colourway (which first went on sale the month before Daniel Lee’s first “Bottega Green” collection), the three core Humanrace products are a cleanser, exfoliator and moisturiser. Delivered as a “Routine Pack”, these are designed to be used daily for three minutes. “That was very much the lesson from Dr Elena,” says Muscat: “It’s all about routine. If you don’t stick to it, you’re not going to see any benefits.” Customers are invited to subscribe, at a slightly reduced price, to deliveries of product refills with which they can replenish their pots. The company also offers suncare products, soap-free “body bars”, and ceramic trays to place them on. The products are vegan and assiduously non-specific about skin type. There are also own-brand apparel pieces and a collaboration collection produced with Adidas Originals.
To mark the British launch, Selfridges will be temporarily illuminated in the brand’s distinct shade of green. There will also be three further activations highlighting the ceramic trays, the Adidas collab, and a new, Made In Italy iteration of the apparel (as yet unseen by the public, these pieces are low-shouldered, high-ish hemmed sweats and hoodies in washed high-quality French terry).
Humanrace’s circular approach to packaging and replenishment was a draw for the retailer. “Our focus is on powering future super brands and sharing our platform with disruptors alongside global beauty houses while offering more sustainable solutions,” explains Andrew Keith, managing director of Selfridges. It currently carries 2,000 refill options across 55 brands and is aiming for 45 per cent of transactions to come from circular products and services by 2030. He adds: “Pharrell and the Humanrace team have identified a space for functional, effective everyday products that are designed to keep… it’s a hard-to-better example of a circular future for skincare.”
The British retail debut follows physical activations via Ssense (Montreal), Corso Como (Milan) and Dover Street (Paris). Muscat declines to share sales figures for the US-based private company but does note that of its subscriber base, 13 per cent are UK residents: “They have been excited enough by the brand to pay the extra delivery cost, even if we don’t want them to have to do that. Which is one of the reasons we are now in Selfridges. We see wholesale as our next big road.”
Subscription, she stresses, comes with additional benefits beyond savings. Tomorrow, Selfridges will host a panel with Williams and the Humanrace team, chaired by
Vogue columnist Raven Smith, to which UK subscribers have been given first access. Other benefits include early access to Something In The Water, the Williams-organised music and art festival in his hometown, Virginia Beach.
Unsaid yet explicit in the brand’s pitch is the central appeal of Williams's own undeniable charisma and celebrity. However, celebrity skincare brands have recently been subject to a
backlash after the avowedly non-celebrity company Deciem decried their rise at the expense of science-based formulations. This was a backlash Humanrace largely avoided thanks to its rejection of a “turnkey product” in favour of proprietorial formulations perfected under the demanding eye of Dr Jones. “When you put experts, real professionals, to the task, what you get back is something special,” Williams says.
Pharrell and family, Ronnie Cooke and Jonathan Newhouse, Jorja Smith, Clinton Ogbenna, Gabriel Moses and Mowalola at the launch party dinner in London.
When asked about his ultimate ambition for the brand, he says: “We want to leave the category of wellness better than we found it. It’s a very big space. There are a lot of brands that use a lot of marketing and lip service to do things, but there are also some brands that really get it right… We want to come in, contribute to what’s there, and see if there are any holes that we can patch up: we want to be an additive to the space.”
Which brings us back to “intention”. Presented as sustainable through its packaging and formulation and non-exclusionary through its one-size-fits-all approach, Humanrace’s marketing is clearly designed to generate a psychological glow as well as dermatological “wellness”. Williams says: “The product is the derivative of the intention. When brands lose their identity, it’s because they think everything comes down simply to the product. But, it shouldn’t be that: the product should be a derivative, the reflection of real intention. That’s what we’re selling more than anything else.”
Humanrace is only one facet of Williams’s non-musical portfolio of creative entrepreneurial ventures. He is co-owner of streetwear brand Human Made (with Kenzo creative director Nigo); founder of the Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream streetwear brands; and a regular collaborator with brands including Tiffany and Moncler.
Asked whether there is a parallel between his processes of musical production and entrepreneurialism, Williams replies: “Absolutely. Essentially all I’m doing is expressing myself with any company that I have. They exist in different tranches, but if you look at the core of them, it all comes back to my self-expression, my experiences with the codes, and my willingness to share them with my subscribers.”
from the Vogue Business newsletter
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