In the beginning, fashion shows were silent, just like the first motion pictures. In Europe, where great designers have always been revered, the quiet was a sign of esteem. When a teenaged Carolina Herrera attended her first Balenciaga show, in 1952, she was awestruck by the hushed atmosphere: “There was total silence. It was an impressive way to show clothes, very different from today.” That’s putting it mildly.
Contemporary fashion shows are an aural extravaganza, powered by 10,000-watt amps and speaker systems whose output will vibrate your viscera. The 12-minute playlists accompanying shows are curated by DJs who have been paid handsomely to divine the perfect mix of songs to elevate the proceedings from performance to performance art. Sometimes the music directly references the clothes, like a Mozart harpsichord concerto accompanying a collection inspired by Marie Antoinette. But the most interesting pairings of clothes and music have less to do with literal connections than with creating a mood.
Frederic Sanchez, the DJ who has worked with Marc Jacobs for the past 18 years, doesn’t even preview the racks. Instead he selects songs that evoke images in the audience’s imagination to match a certain vibe. He calls this “creating a décor”—a wall of sound that arouses memories and emotions. Consider Sanchez’s playlist for the Prada women’s fall 2012 shows: Space Love (Leila), Films (Gary Numan), Neuköln (David Bowie), Keys of Life (Klaus Nomi), and Spock (VCMG). This blend of avant-garde vocals and minimalist techno doesn’t have any ostensible connection to Edwardian coats, cropped pants, kohl-stained eyes, and doctors’ satchels, but the eerie digital medley suits the clothes perfectly. All the songs except “Space Love” and “Spock” are from the ’70s and ’80s, and yet the overall effect is so next season.