Just like in the movies, runway soundtracks create particular moods. New York Fashion Week is one of the biggest events where style, live performances, and sensationally-spun DJ sets converge music and fashion in a unique and creative way. Music supervision transports the audience into an all-encompassing experience, setting a tone and going far beyond background noise as models walk the runway.
When you think of the matrimony between music and fashion, Kanye West may have ministered the most memorable one with his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show-turn-Life of Saint Pablo album release event in 2016. The 20,000+ onlookers at Madison Square Garden and over 20 million viewers watching the live stream got a chance to experience something truly special; a moment that allowed music and fashion -- along with performance art via Vanessa Beecroft -- to achieve true artistic equilibrium. Unfortunately, not every designer can rely on their star status and musical prowess to be the catalyst for their collection, so originality is key.
Designers are aware that live music could take focus away from their designs, but it can also help provide clarity to the collection. There were some incredible live performances during this February’s fall presentation showings, including Pyer Moss, who enlisted a Raphael Saadiq-led live gospel choir to help highlight the political message their Fall 2018 collection was conveying. They harmonized soulful renditions of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”
Cushnie et Ochs did something similar with their show, which doubled as a concert with a dazzling live performance by AlunaGeorge that complemented the collection’s use of sequins and velvet. Telfar completely scrapped the runway format for their showing to make way for a concert-like atmosphere in which artists like Dev Hynes, Kelela, and Kelsey Lu all performed in head-to-toe Fall 2018 collection pieces.
Live performances weren’t just left to the new school cool kids. Christina Aguilera surprised everyone in attendance at the Opening Ceremony Spring 2019 show by stepping on stage for the finale and singing “Fall In Line” from her latest album. VFILES also opted for a banger of a closing to the Spring 2019 showing of their new Yellow Label brand with Lil’ Kim bopping out onto the runway with the other models en masse to perform her 2005 Brooklyn big-up banger, “Lighters Up.”
But live music isn’t always a catalyst for a fashion show’s vibe. Sometimes, soundtracks that mix in old favorites can give those hearing it a new perspective on the song. To kick off the brand’s Spring 2019 show, Kate Spade’s design team honored the late founder by playing the timeless classic “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega and DNA, and Christian Siriano took it back to the early 2010’s with hauntingly delightful tracks “Jerome” by Lykke Li and “Dougou Badia” by Amadou & Mariam featuring Santigold. The nostalgic emotions of Ralph Lauren’s 50th Anniversary show were captured perfectly with a soundtrack that played Paul Simon’s “New York Is My Home,” and capped with the Dances With Wolves theme song as Lauren himself closed the show.
A good soundtrack mix can also serve as an introduction to up-and-coming artists who get a unique platform to have their music heard. Rihanna decided to stay in her role as designer for her highly-anticipated Savage x Fenty show, and gave her unofficial stamp of approval by mixing in Argentinian artist Catnapp’s bopper “Flame Bitch”, along with Iranian singer/songwriter Sevdaliza and her soulful single, “HUMAN.”
However music is served up during these shows, it is an incredibly important cog in the New York Fashion Week machine. By carefully constructing the music for their shows, designers are providing showgoers and live stream viewers with a multisensory experience that allows them, as Pharrell once famously stated, to “see sounds.”