Pharrell Talks Jean Prouvé, Gio Ponti, Zaha Hadid, And “Other Super Genius Guys” at Design Miami/ (With Special Surprise Guest Kanye)

When celebrities try their hands at the “crossover” — ill thought-out, other-disciplinary projects, like those of some would-be furniture designers who shall remain nameless — we can barely suppress our reflexive eyerolls. Quite often these stunts reek of pretension, of transparent attempts at gaining some intellectual street cred.

Mistakenly, we assumed that would be the case for “Pharrell: Places and Spaces I’ve Been” (Rizzoli), the title music producer’s latest book. At first it doesn’t look like anything more than a flashy tome devoted to showing off his famous friends: It features collaborations and conversations with the likes of Buzz Aldrin, Takashi Murakami, and Zaha Hadid. But over the course of his hour-long discussion with Design Miami/ founder Craig Robins, we gleaned quite the contrary. After drawing some goofy parallels between songwriting with industrial design — the lyrics are like the legs, the verse like the seat, kinda — refreshingly, he explained that he made this book as homage to various luminaries who have taught him a thing or two over the course of his career. “I didn’t want to talk about me,” he told the audience. “I wanted to talk about the people who have inspired me and offered me different portals from music.” And there wasn’t one shred of pseudo intellect-speaker, either. (Seriously. He called Jean Prouvé and Hans Zimmer “super genius guys.”)

Addressing the part of the book in which he proposes a pop-up collaborative housing project to Hadid, he explained his fascination with rethinking our dwellings. “Prefab housing is really boring,” he told the audience. “How do we make that interesting? How do we make it above and beyond? Zaha Hadid is above and beyond. Prefab is floor, walls, and a roof. It’s constructed with straight lines and right angles with corners. We all know Zaha — she likes curves. She doesn’t have corners… And that’s the reason I approached her. I asked her, and she thought it was a great idea. And she said sure.”

The budding industrial designer (allegedly that racy chair he produced in 2008 with Domeau & Pérès is about what its “like to be in love,” although “Depending on the angle, there are other people who have different interpretations of that” also gave his top picks from the fair, which unsurprisingly all feature bright swaths of primary colors: a Charlotte Perriand bookshelf from Galerie Downtown accented with yellow squares; a Pierre Guariche chair from Demisch Danant, a Riteveld chair from Galerie Vivid; and a desk from Galleria Rossella Colombari by Gio Ponti, whom he was so delighted to have discovered: “He tried to make the office fun!”

As a surprise bonus, Kanye West (who also takes book publishing very seriously) provided what Robins called “the encore” (under regular circumstances known just as the last question from the audience), although no one could hear what it was — or they were too distracted tweeting and Instagramming to care.

And yes, we totally got on stage and did the book-signing and picture-taking afterwards.

“I was really looking forward to hearing what you had to say about Zaha,” I told him. “Yeah, you know,” he said. “She’s the queen.”

— Janelle Zara