When Craig Green’s eponymous label made its catwalk debut – the second on MAN’s AW13 billing in-between Astrid Andersen and Agi & Sam – it did so to Health’s ‘Die Slow’. When, at the designer’s first solo show three seasons later audience members were moved to tears, Enya’s ‘Caribbean Blue’ was playing overhead; the soundtrack to the follow up, ‘Iris’ by Wim Mertes and Michael Nyman’s ‘Wheelbarrow Walk’, is likewise as vivid a factor in the AW15 show as the conceptual headpieces that marched out in that initial display four seasons earlier.
Not simply a vehicle for fashion brands to flex their commercial muscle, music’s significance within the industry is perhaps most prominent during show season, where the right aural decision can be a properly powerful tool. Fast forward a month, a year even, and the strongest arrangements remain embedded in memory (shoutout to House of Holland, closing its tenth anniversary show at the weekend with the same Misshapes produced mix that soundtracked its AW07 debut: here).
For Christopher Shannon, pop music is commonplace: songs by the likes of Dane Bowers and Victoria Beckham, Mutya Keisha Siobhan (covering Kendrick Lamar, the same season Shaun Samson played the original), and Leona Lewis have all claimed moments at the Liverpudlian’s shows, while the finale at his recent SS17 display (Anohni’s ‘4 Degrees’), led one editor to buy the artist’s record straight after the show.
“I think it’s really important to have music that compliments the collection and evokes an emotional response to the image that the viewer is seeing,” asserts Matthew Miller, a designer who predominantly works alone on his show music. “If the collection is alien to the viewer, then I think having music that is familiar is really important; I’ve also seen shows where the actual music overshadowed the collection. You have to have real balance and self critique your choices.”
As an indication of the designer’s dedication, the credit sheet for Miller’s AW16 show – at which songs by The Smashing Pumpkins and Björk played overhead – concluded with the following note: The music was chosen while spending a day in the National Portrait Gallery, listening to various albums with renaissance paintings.
“I think the style (of music) has to either fit with the casting or should totally juxtapose it,” he continues, “so you’re spelling out what you’re trying to say through the soundtrack.”
“It’s a vital component of the overall sensory experience,” agrees Mandi Lennard, founder of the acclaimed consultancy Mandi’s Basement and a woman whose own fashion show attendance outnumbers even the most devoted of fans. “You usually have less than 15 minutes to create a lasting impression. It’s subliminal in that not everyone will make key connections that the designer will convey, which is why for those who do ‘get it’, it’s all the more impactful.”
“You don’t just add a tune and think ‘sorted’,” she continues, “don’t be under any illusion. Every show puts great onus on the soundtrack and the person who creates it works incredibly closely with the designer.” For his most recent outing, Green tapped the acclaimed sound designer Frédéric Sanchez (credits elsewhere include Prada and Jil Sander), a sure signifier of where his label, now eight seasons in, stands within the industry.
DJ and editor Hanna Hanra has worked on scores for everyone from Nicole Fahri to Louise Gray, as well as jockeying after parties for some of the industry’s most commendable heavyweights. “It depends on the designer,” she asserts of the relationship, “how much they know about music, how key it is to the development of their collection. Some people just want someone to take care of the technical side of things, and some want someone to take the concept of the clothes and translate it into a 14-minute track.”
There are also then, those designers who choose to employ live music to create a fully immersive experience: Todd Lynn has played with this model several times, perhaps most notably with the band Wolf Alice, while Sophia Webster has twice tapped Katy B; back in January, Grace Wales Bonner’s final MAN display saw her broach the same idea, with a decidedly different outcome, as composer and multi-instrumentalist Tunde Jegede played the kora in his role as griot. Yesterday's Ashish show likewise married the contemporary with the traditional, with proceedings backed by a live sitar player.
Owen Pratt, a musician in the band Uncanny Valley, has played music producer for a number of London’s young talent (Claire Barrow, Ashley Williams and Fashion East have all utilised his skills), a position he initially engineered through a friend.
“Good show music completely enhances the way the collection comes across. It creates a mood; sometimes the footage produced of the looks after the show uses completely different music than what was made for the show, and I always think it loses a lot,” he says.
“The music is the backdrop for the collection as the space can often be quite generic and there’ll be other designers using exactly the same space, so it’s your chance to change it drastically and make a statement.”
For his part, the role has seen him building instruments (for Claire Barrow’s SS16 presentation, pictured above), as well as writing music, designing soundsystems, playing live, and collaborating on videos to be used during shows. “I think there’s a lot of potential to be experimental and do something fresh, especially with presentations as it’s a longer format and less formalised. It’s also a good opportunity to approach people you really want to collaborate with, and I like that the show only happens once.”
The gravity of music’s role in these now near monthly productions cannot be overlooked; like the clothes it accompanies, people pay attention and anything that doesn’t sit well will be noted, whether as a half-hearted mention somewhere south in the respective show review, or, perhaps more scathingly, via a standalone tweet. The use of Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’, by all accounts a contemporary black power anthem, fell short when it was played at Australian Fashion Week during Melbourne label Misha's show in May, used for the finale of a show whose casting director failed to include any models of colour in the line-up.
Music can also have a commemorative role: at LC:M in January, Xander Zhou’s show was one of the first on the schedule to take place following the news of David Bowie’s passing. While the collection, planned months in advance, bore several references to the artist, the sound of ‘Heroes’ added a further, more emotional element. At Versace’s menswear presentation in June, Donatella played previously unreleased recordings by Prince, something she later told Billboard was a way to “express my love and admiration for my friend who I miss so much.”
A lack of sound can likewise merge the visual with the atmospheric, as Lennard notes while divulging personal favourites: “A Comme des Garcons show in silence was just as powerful as accompanying sound.” Elsewhere she describes Marc Jacobs' AW16 show as “a masterclass in precisely what we are discussing. Anyone who did not attend will never appreciate the immersive, tantalising precision of the overall production and spectacle. It was spectacular, and the sound of slow subtle bells was as much a star as the collection.”
“Roksanda Illincic’s SS15 show opened to Roxanne Shanté's ‘Have A Nice Day’,” she adds, “For someone who saw her live in 1987 at Rock City in Nottingham – and is convinced she was looking at me when she said ‘Have a nice day’ – I was whooping in my seat.”
Words: Zoe Whitfield