But it’s not just the record industry that’s clamoring for Williams—the fashion world is also after the head N.E.R.D. Factories can’t stitch his Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream clothing lines quickly enough to keep up with demand, and Williams has twice collaborated on signature collections with the distinguished French design house Louis Vuitton. In 2005, Esquire magazine named him the world’s best-dressed man. Any one of these reasons would have compelled us to feature the producer-singer-songwriter-designer in this issue of INKED. But we also had to get to the bottom of the recent tattoo-related headlines he’s been making. In case you missed it, reports surfaced that the N.E.R.D frontman was planning to have new skin grown for him in a laboratory as a way to cover his tattoos. What the hell?
INKED: So, we hear you’re on the scientific forefront of tattoo removal.
WILLIAMS: I knew you were going to go there.
We had to ask, man. Can you tell us what you’re up to? First of all, I was tired as hell when I did that interview. I had just seen this story on CNN about this pixie dust, which is something being worked on at the Wake [Forest] Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina. It’s basically a process for burn victims where they blend your DNA with something from a pig—the dermis, I think—and use it to grow skin. I saw it and had the bright idea [to cover my tattoos with it]. I was kidding around, but the guy reported that I was serious. That said, if there is a procedure you know of besides laser, please let me know.
Why? Are there a couple of tattoos you’re itching to get rid of?
Yeah, I have a big one that’s total shit. It’s a couple of angel faces, but they were really badly drawn, so I tried to cover them up with fire. I got it lasered, but it takes, like, six or seven goes, and I don’t want to do it anymore.
What about another repair job?
Oh man, that’s what the fuck got me into the position I’m in now. I tried to cover it with fire, and now it just looks like a big blur of shit. After that one is when I started getting tattoos from great artists. I met [Mister] Cartoon, and he did one on my leg, which is cool. And I met Anil Gupta, who to me is the king of all tattoo artists. He did the guardian angel on my neck.
What got you started tattooing?
DeVante Swing, who was an R&B producer from this group called Jodeci, he had tons of tattoos and I thought it was the coolest in the world. When I saw Lenny Kravitz’s sleeves, I was like “Yo, I gotta have that.” Then when I met Fred Durst. Fred had tattoos everywhere. I was like, “That’s it. I’m doing it.” All my friends thought I was out of my mind.
When you collaborate with musicians, is there ever tattoo talk in the studio? Yeah. You know what?
One of the guitarists from Good Charlotte has crazy tattoos. Not Joel or Benji, but their guitar player. Joel and Benji have great tattoos, but their guitar player has all of this Tim Burton Nightmare before Christmas stuff. He has them everywhere, and they’re so fucking dope. He had them done by his tattoo artist friend who he took on the road with him. It’s so sick.
Between your Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream fashion labels, you’re a full-fledged designer these days. Do you design your own tattoos?
Actually, I was talking to Kanye recently, and he was telling me I should get all of the BBC and Ice Cream logos tattooed on me. I was like, “Yeah, if I had some fucking room!”
Why name Billionaire Boys Club after one of the most famous Ponzi schemes in history?
I liked the name, and I thought there could be so much more behind it than that one connotation. Just like N.E.R.D—I like the way it sounds phonetically, and I like parts of what it represents, but I thought there could be another version of what a nerd could be. That’s always been my thing.
What connotation are you trying to evoke with BBC? I’m trying to insinuate that true wealth is a wealth of education. Wealth is of the heart and mind,not of the pocket. That’s the wealth that no one can take away from you, no matter what happens.
Coming from music into fashion, was there a lot of on-the-job training, or were you a natural?
Yeah, it’s been natural. Without having any design experience when I started, I looked at it from another perspective. I was like, “What don’t I have, what do I really want, and what can’t I get?” It’s worked.
What’s hot today is lame tomorrow in the world of fashion. How will you keep BBC from turning into the next FUBU?
We go beyond the boundaries of what’s expected of us. We’ve done collaborations with people like Turnbull & Asser, which is a hugely prestigious English brand that’s been around for hundreds of years. We’ve got a crazy, crazy collaboration that I can’t talk about right now, but that you’ll see at the top of next year. It’s incredible. People are going to be like, “What the hell?” You collaborated with Louis Vuitton recently on a line of incredibly expensive jewelry.
Were you attempting to produce the blingiest bling on planet Earth?
I wanted to do something that was aristocratic and monarchial. You know: old money, old royalty, old English— even though Vuitton is French.
Your pieces seem like an odd genre for Louis Vuitton.
But that’s what makes for good collaborations. Think about it. They just did a collaboration with Richard Prince, which was far different from anything they do. They did Murakami too, which was different but fit in wonderfully.
When you worked with Marc Jacobs, did you talk tattoos?
Between the M&M and the Simpsons stuff, he’s got some interesting ink. I thought it was cool that he doesn’t have any boundaries. That’s what I admire about his tattoos. They’re just different. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably get Japanimation all over myself. There are probably so many kids that have done that already, though. I’m so mad I didn’t think it out first. There are so many other things I could have done. I could have done all of the BBC icons and all of the different brands that I like that are iconic. But then I’d probably be feeling his way now wanting to do something different.
If you did have a blank canvas, what would you do with it? I’d probably get “The Last Supper” across my shoulder blades and back
In 2005, Esquire voted you the world’s bestdressed man. Did you get a trophy?
No trophy. But it was prestigious for me. I had no idea I was going to win. I believe I was standing with Josh Lucas and Owen Wilson at the photo shoot. I was standing between them thinking, “One of these two guys is going to win for sure.” I asked Esquire what it was [that helped me win], and they said it was based on a lot of the galas and red-carpet events that I went to where I dressed up in traditional suits. It was a big deal.
Before you were the world’s best-dressed man, you must have experienced those same awkward tween-age years we all do. Looking back, what were you worst fashion faux paux? When you’re unafraid to express yourself and be edgy about what you wear, of course you’re going to have moments where you look back and say, “Okay, that worked. Okay, that didn’t work—what was I thinking?” You can’t take yourself so seriously, man.
So nothing gets to you? At the end of the day, I know that I’m lucky to do what I do. I wake up every day and get paid to do what I love to do. Right?
That’s an incredible feeling. Not everything is always going to be perfect. There are going to be people who report things about you that aren’t true. Sometimes you’ll miss your flight. Sometimes you’ll be in another country where they don’t have any fucking room service after 12. There are all sorts of tedious experiences. I won’t call them trials and tribulations because they’re just experiences. But when you look back at all of the fun you had making music and living your life and being able to provide for your family, you can’t complain. When you look at the nations of kids who support you and the things that you do, you can only say, “Wow, I’m a lucky dude. Who cares if I have a piece-of-shit tattoo on my left bicep?”