story from theglobeandmail.com In the Black Eyed Peas's chart topper Boom Boom Pow, lead singer Fergie throws down the fashion gauntlet: “I'm so 3008, you're so 2000 and late.” But as will.i.am, the group's front man and wordsmith sees it, longevity – not trendiness – will be the key to his new clothing label's success. “Are we trying to have Sean John or Yves Saint Laurent?” he asks earlier this week from the lower level of Harry Rosen's flagship store on Toronto's Bloor Street West, where his line, I Am, is now available. Sean John is the streetwear brand founded by Sean (Diddy) Combs. “Twenty years from now, I hope that it's something like Yves Saint Laurent,” continues the musician, sporting an oversized pair of Carrera sunglasses. “No disrespect to Diddy; he's my homie. I'm just saying I want to be around.” It's quite the stretch to compare his collection of perforated leather bombers, wax-coated canvas jackets, sweaters, tees and man bags to the timeless work one of the foremost fashion designers of all time. And make no mistake, the 35-year-old performer, born William James Adams Jr., insists that he has no plans to branch out into women's haute couture (which is probably for the best). He does, however, want the world to know he's not just another celebrity lending his name to a line of club clothes. To his credit, will.i.am attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles before joining the Black Eyed Peas. Although it was a short-lived stint, he has spent the better part of a decade influencing his band members' outfits while attempting to break into design. His first official collection, which arrived in select North American boutiques this past spring, has a Canadian connection: It is produced by Manhattan International, a Montreal-based company that also oversees Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. label. In general, I Am is not nearly as funky as some of the looks will.i.am rocks in videos or onstage. Which is entirely the point, he says. “I'm just being smart. The customer is whoever wants to express themselves. They don't have to look like the Black Eyed Peas to buy the clothes. But, you know, guys as a whole are kind of, like, afraid.” To borrow from another one of the group's blockbuster hits, then, he's meeting men halfway, presenting them with options that are just slightly edgier and more detail-focused than mass market offerings from the likes of Zara and Club Monaco. Ted Rozenwald, president of Manhattan International, says this strategy will determine I Am's success. “It's not a co-ordinated men's-wear collection; it's a ‘best of,'” he explains, differentiating between head-to-toe ensembles and must-have items. “It's one that is genuine, quality-driven and not based on an endorsement deal.” It's also reasonably priced. Most T-shirts hover around $98 and one standout asymmetrical lightweight black jacket costs $315. The leather bomber is $635. While will.i.am works closely with designer Nana Sananikone, Rozenwald says, this Pea can wield a pen. “We were laughing the other day because he can actually draw, he can sketch. He's so colourful and driven by the arts.” But get will.i.am to reflect on fashion and he becomes uncharacteristically reserved; he speaks sotto voce and comes across like a shy student being quizzed by a teacher. Still, he maintains a very confident approach to branding. The I Am logo that appears on buttons, lining and accessories features a stylized owl bearing the letters “i, a, m” in an interlocking design across its torso. Hardly a minimalist, he carries a $10,000 white-gold diamond-encrusted BlackBerry. “I know I like my taste,” he says, confidently this time. He also seems certain that the I Am brand will not end with clothing. A fragrance may be next, he hints. What will it smell like? “Not like a men's locker room,” he ensures, noting that he prefers unisex scents like Dream from the Gap and baby oil. As he dedicates more time to fashion, the performer denies that his songwriting will suffer. “Music is breathing to me,” he says. And if the fashion business comes as naturally to him, it's simply a matter of time before he answers the question that punsters and trendsetters alike are desperate to know: When will I Am offer a black-eyed pea coat?