Show music has become a very serious consideration. Some designers start choosing the soundtrack for their shows before they even start thinking about the clothes
Music and fashion strut the runway together
It's showtime. London Fashion Week is happening this very minute. Next stop, Milan, Paris and various catwalk uprisings from LA and Sydney to São Paulo and Spain. Of course, what used to be a fiercely exclusive, industry-only fashion event has become a free-for-all, particularly online. It's now possible to see most shows minutes after the event courtesy of websites such as Style.com. The self-penned fashionistas behind countless blogs can update you on trends, models, parties, even goody bags within nanoseconds.
Faced with several weeks, in some cases months, of scrum-like queues in bizarre venues - that's if you are lucky enough to get an invite - late starts and the daily debacle about what to wear, you wonder why the fashion pack aren't tempted to bunk off more. Speaking as one who has attended the fashion circus for well over a decade, I think I know. After the very last show of the evening, regardless of whether you are in Paris or New York, inevitably there will be a party or gathering at whatever is the trendiest bijou hotel or restaurant downtown.
This is when the real troupers, those whose first show began at 8am and whose last finished at 9pm, want to talk about anything but clothes. This is when breathless young fashion bunnies, particularly designers, finally dare saunter over and try to chat to Anna Wintour or Suzy Menkes, thinking them now off-duty. Stop. Big mistake. The really (really) important fashion crowd are the most tight-lipped you will come across. They are saving their opinions until they are safely ensconced in their offices. In quiet meetings behind large doors only then will they divulge what they think will be the next big thing.
My big tip if you want to break the ice at the frostiest fashion party is to talk music. Forget the goody bags (you never mention these) or even the spotty model in the Chanel show. Fashion shows are without fail where you hear the newest, latest, trendiest sounds around. This is why the most senior fashion editors always have the youngest assistants close at hand. After each show, the latter will advise the former on what they've just heard.
Never mind being clued up on designers or trends. Bah! Easy! It's keeping up with the music scene that challenges most of the wrinkly fashion icons and keeps them feeling young. Before the days of burning CDs and iPod downloads, if you wanted to create the ultimate compilation tape, you had to either befriend a DJ or go to a leading fashion show. Gianni Versace shows were particularly great for this. Not only would you be guaranteed brazen Italian glamour, Elton John, Madonna and more supermodel pound by pound than anywhere else, you walked away with the tape of the show's soundtrack. This rocked. It was always a brilliant mixture of garish rock, pop and blasts from the past.
The night after the show - no, actually, the night after the night after the aftershow party - you could play your tape and weirdly enough this would serve to bring back the show. Blasts from each song would make you remember that blue satin frock slashed to the thigh worn by Naomi, or the ice-white catsuit worn by Amber Valletta. The show's finale was always greeted by a silence, then the glitterball would start to reel before the big-bang soundtrack - which would always be whatever was going to be the hit of that year.
Show music has become a very serious consideration indeed. Alexander Wang, the 24-year-old New York designer and current bright young thing, starts choosing the soundtrack for his show before he even starts thinking about the clothes. Hiring the latest DJ fresh from Glasto has become not just advisable but imperative. Last season, the British designer Matthew Williamson even got Prince to put on a surprise performance pre-show with his Australian dancers The Twinz gyrating on the catwalk in micro-dresses and silver corsets, from Williamson's spring/summer 2008 collection.
This was the first time I had seen some of the stuffy fashion crowd toe-tapping, not headbanging. What pretty but bland spring summer shows often lack (clothes shown now will be for spring/summer 2009) can often be enhanced by a thudding guitar or ethnic vibe. Most catwalk shows last for a maximum of 20 minutes. Music is used as a way of breaking outfits into stories, dividing up day and evening wear as well as setting the mood and pace of the collection, which the catwalk show offers a glimpse of.
When the sound system fails, jumps or is too loud, this is when certain important journalists switch off or walk out. Only one clever designer gets away with an impressive signature sound: silence. Yohji Yamamoto. His shows are always the last of the evening, staged in some giant stadium, and I swear you could hear a pin drop.