“If I can’t show it / you can’t see me / What’s the point of doing anything?” St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, sings on “Digital Witness,” a musical thinkpiece about life in the age of Instagram. That lyric, from her self-titled fourth solo album (due Feb. 25) on Loma Vista/Republic, doubled as a raison d’être for her live-streamed performance during American Express’ Unstaged Fashion with DVF on Sunday.
The intimate showcase celebrated the 40th anniversary of Diane Von Furstenberg’s iconic wrap dress, and allowed St. Vincent to perform three new songs live for the first time – “Every Tear Disappears,” “Prince Johnny” and the aforementioned “Digital Witness.”
After the DVF show, which was co-hosted by Cat Deeley and supermodel Coco Rocha, Clark played a bonus set for AmEx cardmembers that included “St. Vincent”’s lead single “Birth In Reverse” and the album’s propulsive opening track “Rattlesnake,” whose staccatoed synth programming recalled an indie-rock take on Jennifer Lopez’s “Play.”
After everyone wished Von Furstenberg a happy 40th for her iconic wrap dress, she told Billboard she thought of St. Vincent for her show because music has always been an instrumental part of her vision.
“My wrap dress was inspired by the wrap sweaters the dancers wore at the Ballet Russes, ” she said, a flute of champagne in hand, referring to the Paris-based troupe helmed by Sergei Diaghilev that brought together the music of Igor Stravinski, Claude Debussy with sets by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and costuming by Coco Chanel. “But it took on a whole other meaning in the ’70s when it became a symbol of the disco era.”
And what does Clark have to do with disco? “She’s sexy and creative and bold, just like the women who made my dress famous,” said Von Furstenberg. “She’s hot!”
Clark paid tribute to the afternoon’s icon with her own jumper-esque take on the wrap dress, and told Billboard after her two sets that she considered Von Furstenburg “a very strong woman and a trailblazer.”
In terms of personal style, however, Clark tends to skew more toward the cerebral. “My fashion icon is Albert Einstein. Because he wanted to conserve his brainspace, so he would just wear a uniform and go about the day. So a lot of times when I’m working in the studio or on the road, I look up to Einstein and I wear the same thing.”
“I had it hemmed to a mini so it felt more rock’n’roll,” she noted about the wrap, sporting her version with black fishnets and booties. Added her friend and “Portlandia” star Carrie Brownstein, formerly of Sleater-Kinney: “It’s glamorous but wearable, which is why Annie’s a good match for Diane. Her music is effervescent but has a great beat that makes it accessible to all. And I thought it worked really well for the runway–unlike my music.”
The DVF event marked AmEx’s second consecutive Fashion Week pairing a designer with live performance, following last fall’s Unstaged Fashion featuring Janelle Monae and Rebecca Minkoff. Additional “Unstaged” installments, pairing A-list artists with well-known directors and filmmakers, will return later this year produced by longtime production partner @radical.media. “We really want to celebrate the convergence of live and digital, and for consumers to feel the in-venue experience at home,” says Walter Frye, American Express’ director of entertainment marketing and sponsorships, “And we’re ensuring that the production is going to be at the level you see on the music series.”
As for St. Vincent’s new tour, which kicks off later this week in Europe before hitting the States on Feb. 26 at New York’s Terminal 5, Clark picked up a few moves from her recent string of dates with David Byrne in support of their 2012 collaborative album “Love This Giant.” The theatrical tour featured Byrne and a full band shuffling robotically across the stage in a loosely choreographed fashion.
“I was busy playing guitar and singing, but I kept looking around and everyone else was getting to do all these fun things so I thought, ‘I wanna try that!’” Clark says of adapting the “Love This Giant” experience. “Also you know we communicate by symbols and so many things, it seemed like if I wasn’t incorporating movement, I’d be leaving an entire language off the table.”