Like many of us during the COVID-19 lockdown, Pharrell Williams channeled a bit of Marie Kondo and began sifting through his belongings—no small feat, considering Williams owns 11 storage vaults filled with rare one-of-a-kind cultural artifacts that span the fashion and music heavyweight’s career. Feeling weighed down, Williams created Joopiter, his very own auction portal and content platform. Now the two-time Academy Award-nominated and 13-time Grammy-winning star has set out to lighten not only the load for what he calls his “transmutation” but also to give these personal treasures and their provenance a new chapter of their own.
Adding to his long list of extracurricular pursuits—which includes the Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream clothing lines, skin-care brand Humanrace, an ongoing collaboration with Adidas, and the co-ownership of South Beach’s The Goodtime Hotel—Williams assembled a new team for Joopiter, enlisting the help of Alaska Alaska, the design and creative service practice founded by the late Virgil Abloh, to create the portal, which uses archival imagery and new video content to tell the story of each object.
The motivation behind Joopiter, which will, in the near future, serve as an auction platform for others, is rooted in Williams’s love for creating and collecting. It also provides a behind-the-curtain peek at the personal belongings of famous people.
The celebrity secondhand and collectibles market has boomed in recent years—when old Hollywood passes on or looks to downsize, mega-fans clamor at estate sales and old-school auction houses to buy the likes of Betty White’s front door (which recently sold for a cool $10,000) and Liza Minnelli’s Cabaret bowler hat (which went in 2018 for more $80,000, along with a pair of boots and a vest). Even contemporary artists’ belongings are in high demand. Recent charitable celeb tag sales have seen fans purchase Charlie XCX’s Levi’s jean jacket ($40) or leather thong ($1,000) or peruse hundreds of Lil Yatchy hand-me-downs on Grailed. Or maybe it’s Drew Barrymore’s nightstand on One Kings Lane and Martha Stewart’s cake stand from her mega Bedford, New York, yard sale that are more your speed.
Bidding on Williams’s inaugural auction, Son of a Pharaoh—Pharaoh is the name of Williams’s father—kicks off on the Joopiter website at 9 a.m. on October 20 and closes on October 27. The 52-piece lot ranges from personal memorabilia, like Williams’s Princess Anne high school drumline letterman jacket, to custom one-of-one luxury goods designed by the superstar, like a pair of hand-painted Adidas Consortium Python Stan Smiths and a Billionaire Boys Club Louis Vuitton steamer trunk.
Proceeds from the Joopiter sale will go to Black Ambition, a nonprofit initiative that invests in and amplifies Black and Latinx entrepreneurs and creates new business opportunities for Black and Latinx female founders in the wellness and fashion space.
Wearing custom, almond-shaped 18-karat gold, diamond, and emerald encrusted Tiffany sunglasses (that, who knows, may one day appear on Joopiter), Williams sat down with Fast Company to discuss the significance of the objects for sale, how Marie Kondo really did get into his head, and his willingness to say no when he approaches new business ventures.
FC: What motivated you to create Joopiter? Why not partner with an existing platform?
PW: There’s so much story and symbolism in these things that I’ve created over the years. I want to push those stories forward and allow someone else to purchase the items and feel the ambition they have in them. They are symbolic of what I was going through at that time, what I was thinking, my dreams, and not necessarily knowing how far I would go or how long it would all last.
FC: It’s hard to imagine there was ever a time when you ever doubted your longevity.
PW: It took me a long time to realize that it’ll last as long as I continue to be a flame to radiate this heat and also be a light. That’s a very different ambition from the ambitions that I have now. It’s time to pay it forward and think about it in regard to the provenance of all these pieces. They come from an African American guy from Virginia, one of the first 13 states—a place with a lot of racial tension and historical systemic residue. We were raised to know that we could do and be anything we wanted, but we were in a system where it felt like the exact opposite. You feel that in the pieces.
FC: Are you worried you’ll have regrets letting go of some of these pieces, like a grandma who keeps sneaking things back into the house during her garage sale?
PW: No! It’s the end of an era. It’s a new beginning for me. I am in a different dimension. This is a transmutation. This is a transformation. I will continue making and designing things, but my ambitions are entirely different. It doesn’t have all the gravitation of trying to prove myself over the last 30 years. I was trying to prove something to the world because many of my peers were always proving stuff to their fan base. Then I realized that I was only really proving something to myself. Now I don’t feel I have to prove anything or have that peripheral judgment. So, the next question is, what will I make, and what will I do now without that gravitational pull of insecurity?
FC: Why not use an existing platform to sell this stuff?
PW: I’ve been archiving things for almost three decades. When we started thinking about where we would like to go to market with these things, it was clear they would have had to be spread out on so many different platforms to showcase them, and it wasn’t going to allow an opportunity to tell the story. Joopiter is a tech company that tells stories—it’s what we do. The items are essentially proof that something happened and the intention behind it. The outcome is that you’re buying a story. You’re not only getting things that I designed and my inventions, but you’re also getting a piece of those epiphanies. If you’re just looking to sell something and move something and be purely physically transactional, sure, there are many places you could do that. This is different.
FC: So, you set out to create a platform that is rooted in intention?
PW: One hundred percent. There’s something very spiritual about that, too, because my whole goal moving forward is to get lighter. Not only lighter in weight but also lighter in brightness. You can’t do that when you’re feeling held down. There’s a reason why when hot air balloons go higher, they remove the bags. So, to get lighter, you have to lighten your load and what it is that you’re doing.
FC: During the lockdown, people had more time to think about and surround themselves with their belongings in a much different way. Did your philosophy change?
PW: I have to say that Marie Kondo’s television series has haunted me. You watch it, and you have that small voice in your head going, “Yeah, but what about you?” I have certain instincts from growing up with baby-boomer parents who are all about ownership, security, and [material] things. I had to face many of those instincts and say, “Do I actually mean this? Do I really feel this?” This is not just an exercise on things. It’s also an exercise on people and situations. I encourage everybody to take inventory of people, places, and items, and ask yourself, “Are they a deficit or a value add?” Then you can edit those things out.
FC: Did you collect things as a kid?
PW: I was dead broke. I loved Hot Wheel cars, but only got a few when I could. When I was a teenager, all of my friends had Air Jordans. I didn’t have that! I had one or two pairs of shoes. My friends and I were really into trading things, though. I’d trade a remote control car for some other game.
FC: Aligning with Black Ambition, an organization that specifically invests capital and resources in high-growth startups founded by Black and Latinx entrepreneurs—a group historically left out of traditional investment funnels—feels like the right move for Joopiter. Was a philanthropy top of mind when developing Joopiter?
PW: You have to give back to the universe that has given to you. You can’t really tell me why I’ve had the success I’ve had. You could say it’s music, but even then, if all those people don’t stream, download, purchase, or share my music, I’m not here. You know there are people right now who make far better music than me who have never been discovered. For whatever reason, I was chosen. Out of 7.5 billion people, there are at least a thousand other guys with my specific archetype that could do things the same way and would probably make all the same choices. So how was it me and not the other 999? Because I cannot answer that question, I gotta give back.
FC: What would you say is the connective tissue between all your business ventures?
PW: It starts with curiosity and with an amazing team. It begins with a bunch of “no’s.” You have to say no to everything. Then when there’s that one thing you just can’t get away from, you still have to be willing to say no. And if for whatever reason, it still just falls in your lap, then you have to have the curiosity to do a super deep dive. Finally, you have to have a team that is relentless in overdoing it. Like not just getting it right, but taking it to the next level and getting it extra right!
FC: Speaking of the right teams, you enlisted Virgil Abloh’s agency Alaska Alaska to help create Joopiter.
PW: I’ll never forget first talking to him about it and joining forces. He was such a visionary himself. He immediately got the project when I pitched it to him. After hearing him say it back to me in his own words, I never looked back.
He’s made an indelible mark in culture and covered so much ground in his short but prolific, powerful life. It was an honor to have him support Joopiter the way that he did. And the Alaska Alaska guys don’t miss. They have the best taste, and they’re very sharp executors. It’s been a pleasure to work with them.
FC: After the Son of Pharaoh sale, what will you do with all the extra literal and metaphoric space you have made?
PW: Well, that’s the thing: I think I am the space, and I’m in the only space I need right now.