The Significance of Soundtrack

“You have the visual side and then the sonic side – which is going to take it to another dimension, another level. It’s an extension of the collection. A great soundtrack can make an average collection very interesting”

by Josh Walker
Fashion and music have always had a somewhat romantic relationship. Be it the steady beat driving garments down the catwalk or the atmospheric build-up to the climax of a fashion film, they’re two disciplines that are inseparable in nature and completely complementary of the other. With the introduction of the internet however came not only the live streaming of catwalks to a staggering audience but the birth of fashion film. As a result, it begs to question what exactly soundtrack adds to a fashion collection and, with the digital age well and truly upon us, if its role within fashion is at the most vital it’s ever been.

Watching a fashion show without music would probably feel as peculiar as sending the model down the runway without clothes. For years, the catwalk has traditionally been the centre of the fashion presentation. A place where garments walk naturally to a selected soundtrack, designers collaborate with DJs and, increasingly, live bands season after season to produce their perfect musical backdrop.

LCD Soundsystem performed at Yves Saint Laurent’s AW10 show, Lady Gaga unveiled her new single during a Mugler show and Rick Owens’ choice in catwalk music launched Zebra Katz to success after playing their single ‘Ima Read’ at his AW12 womenswear presentation. But what is it about DJs cutting samples that works so well with designers cutting fabric? Why does the art of soundscape merge so well with that of design? More to the point, how significant is soundtrack when it comes to fashion?

Erol Sabadosh is a London based DJ who’s provided catwalk music for Christian Lacroix and Adidas and says that the role of soundtrack is simply to “set the tone of the collection or provide an antithesis to the pieces on display, depending on the desired effect”. When you look at catwalk shows, that’s certainly the case. Chances are, the music is such a tone-setter that before you’ve even set eyes on the clothing you have a good indicator of not only what the aesthetic of the collection will be, but whether you’re going to like it or not.

“I’ll sit down with the designer first and go over the inspirations for the collection and find out how they want to present it,” Sabadosh explained, talking of the collaborative effort between himself and the designer. “Once I have a feel for the collection we’ll start picking music to piece together or I’ll begin producing original music if it’s needed. Music and fashion are inextricably joined. To see a catwalk presentation without any sound at all is strange because it’s become so integral to the overall experience”.

With the birth of the internet however, the concept of the catwalk as we knew it changed. For the first time there was a platform suitable for displaying fashion in motion on screen and, as a result, fashion film was born. Something that thrives on picture and pace, fashion film became a medium in which the display of fashion became as creative as its use of soundtrack.

Marie Schuller is head of fashion film at the industry leading SHOWstudio and believes that when it comes to fashion on screen, music is vital. “Soundtrack is so important that it can make or break a film,” she says. “Music can take a film in completely different directions. It can literally change something that is sinister or dark into something that’s ironic or even quite funny. You can communicate something completely different just by changing the music.”

Unlike the catwalk, fashion film is still relatively young and therefore in the experimental and creative stages, which only adds to the importance of soundtrack. “Fashion film, a lot more than any other film making genre, lives from its rhythm,” Schuller continues. “Because it’s so abstracted and not based on a linear way like other film making genres the edit is so important. You can create a climax or a curve of events just by editing in a very clever way. That edit, like music, is based on rhythm and so they go hand in hand. They’re inseparable and can’t exist without each other.”

Mimi Xu is a music director and sound designer who’s not only worked with the likes of Miu Miu, H&M and Acne but created soundtracks to support fashion both on the catwalk and in fashion film. Like Sabadosh and Schuller, she agrees that both on and off screen, the main purpose of music lies in adding another layer to the clothes. “Soundtrack can really give another dimension to the collection,” the self-proclaimed sound architect explains. “You have the visual side and then the sonic side – which is going to take it to another dimension, another level. It’s an extension of the collection. A great soundtrack can really make an average collection very interesting.”

That said though, she can’t help but describe the method in bringing them to reality as “very different”. “For the fashion show you collaborate with the designer a lot. They set the tone and then we choose together what would work for the show,” Xu says. “For fashion film you really work on how to make the film exciting. Because it’s about showing the clothes there’s very rarely a narrative so with sound you can create a tension with the images in order to keep the person entertained.”

It doesn’t seem like this intertwining of fashion and soundtrack is going to stop anytime soon either. With the ever live nature of cyberspace, catwalks and fashion films are streamed to millions and Sabadosh went as far to say that “the role of music is now arguably more important than ever. It brings in a whole new audience of spectators and potential followers, introduced to the world of fashion through music.” Schuller shares Sabadosh’s hopes for the future of soundtrack and fashion, saying “we’ve come so far with imagery. We work with 3D scanning and motion capturing and you can apply the same things to music”.

However you choose to look at it though, the impact of soundtrack on or off screen is undeniable. Whether it’s to create a mood on the catwalk or to drive another layer of complexity and creativity within the realm of fashion film, it seems music’s role is pivotal to the experience. So when you’re next sat admiring a fashion collection, be sure to remember that you’re admiring its beauty with your eyes as much as your ears.