The seeds of Lu’s project fell into fertile soil in 2012, when she landed a job with the P.R. office at Pharrell’s streetwear label Billionaire Boys Club. A shy fashion addict who grew up in the Midwest, Lu registered a sort of cosmic kinship with Pharrell one day when they were both wearing matching Céline slip-ons. “She had this amazing energy that would come through in the stuff she wore and how she thought. We just instantly had a connection,” Pharrell says. He hired her to be his assistant and stylist soon after.
Lu’s friends almost exclusively refer to her as Cactus or Plant. (She declined to be interviewed for this story, letting her friends—and the clothes—do the talking.) As Pharrell tells it, the nickname felt like destiny: “Cynthia is a beautiful name, but when we were working together I was like, ‘Man, this doesn’t really match you. It puts a lid on your energy.’ ” Then Lu told him that she’d been teased with the name Cactus at a previous job, after she adopted an unwanted prickly plant. “I was like, ‘That’s it,’ ” Pharrell says. “ ‘You’re Cactus. You’re short, you’re sharp, and you’re not easy to touch. And in the driest of times, you’re the one with the water.’ ”
Lu’s higher calling was revealed when she began designing clothes for Pharrell, re-creating vintage pieces she would find in Parisian flea markets. “I was like, ‘Man, you need to be doing this. Like, this is your thing,’ ” Pharrell recalls of her early creations. She began experimenting with her own label on the side, creating custom sweatbands emblazoned with her new brand name—a synthesis of her moniker and the place where she found her eccentric and odd inspiration—and Comme des Garçons-inspired graphic tees, printed on Hanes x Supreme blanks, that she would send to friends. Then, in June of 2015, when Pharrell was accepting his CFDA Fashion Icon award, he closed his speech by telling his “genius assistant Cactus” to “listen to your instincts.” According to those close to Lu, that was when the brand really crystallized. She listened to her instincts and never looked back.
Lu has maintained a level of anonymity that would make Martin Margiela jealous. A remarkable feat, considering she is still Pharrell’s stylist and, pandemic notwithstanding, is usually hiding in plain sight at events among all the world’s coolest musicians, athletes, designers, and stylists.