‘Is Bruno Mars playing a Victoria’s Secret show anything to do with fashion?’

By Jonathan Wingfield
Illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme

Soundtrack. Michel Gaubert & Frédéric Sanchez. - © System Magazine

The masters of catwalk music, Michel Gaubert and Frédéric Sanchez, on why it’s more than just choosing a tune.

DJs? Sound artists? Sound designers or directors? Illustrateurs sonores? However they’re described, Michel Gaubert and Frédéric Sanchez remain fashion’s go-to music men. With almost 60 years of experience soundtracking runway shows between them, their respective client lists are a who’s who of the iconic and influential. Gaubert works with the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Céline and Raf Simons; while Sanchez collaborated for many years with Martin Margiela, and continues to do so with Prada and Comme des Garçons.

In an era where every other curator-art director-blogger-influencer is a self-proclaimed DJ, Gaubert and Sanchez bring not just experience, but the desire and talent to create more nuanced, considered and complex soundscapes – those that can subtly alter the mood of a space and the perception of a collection. Gaubert loves to rework, remix and mash up genres into new and unexpected pieces, while Sanchez is known for using complex loops, collages and delivering his own compositions. System brought them together in Paris to compare musical notes.

Part One
‘While my friends were busy
dismantling car engines, I was studying record sleeves in my bedroom.’

Jonathan Wingfield: As kids, was music something that facilitated a social life for you, or was it more of a solitary activity?

Frédéric Sanchez: For me, music was totally personal, to be consumed when I was alone, because I was probably a bit autistic as a child! It wasn’t something I shared; I didn’t make mixtapes for friends or anything like that.

Michel Gaubert: It was a bit of both for me. In the 1970s, music culture in France was still defined by the idea of ‘tribes’: you’d have the kids who’d listen to Led Zeppelin, then those who’d listen to James Brown. And they rarely crossed over. The key thing that music brought me as a teenager was the broadening of my horizons. I went to live in the States for a year in the mid-1970s, which was a great era for music. I heard so many fantastic things – the Temptations, Al Green, jazz – that I would never have had the access to in France because of that closed attitude of the tribes. It opened my ears.

Which specific elements of music culture resonated with you most?

Frédéric: I really responded to the idea of music telling a story. The mid-1970s were the big LP era, where albums had a beginning and an end, and an entire narrative that got expressed, whereas today music is generally listened to as individual tracks.

Michel: That notion of the album was still going strong in the 1980s, up to the arrival of the CD1. I remember going on holiday to Tunisia and falling in love with Prince’s Purple Rain, which I had on cassette and would listen to eight times a day. That album really is a whole world unto itself, and it’s hard to find that these days.

‘I used to go on pilgrimages to London when I was 14 to find the Anthony Price boutique, simply because Roxy Music wore his stuff.’


Michel: Well, you couldn’t put more than about 20 minutes of music on a side of vinyl without losing the sound quality. So when the CD arrived, the album length suddenly increased, and I think the dimension of the LP as a contained world got a bit lost.

When was the first time music became a conduit to images for you?

Frédéric: Roxy Music, maybe. I loved the visual information contained in record sleeves – the graphics, the artwork, the text. I mean, while my friends were taking cars apart to see how engines worked, I was busy studying the information on record sleeves in my bedroom. I wanted to know how they were made, from start to finish: who designed the cover, where the studio was located.

Michel: I used to go to London when I was about 14 to buy records. I’d go to shops on the King’s Road where the bands bought their clothes; I remember going to find the Anthony Price boutique simply because Roxy Music wore his stuff. And I’d track down the Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren boutique there, too. And as Frédéric mentioned, the studio location was an important element; there are so many mythical studios in London that I wanted to know about. I wanted to dive into these worlds; it was a total obsession.

Frédéric: What’s interesting about the English bands from that era, is how many of them were formed in art schools – that was a whole scene then – so they’d have a pretty sophisticated understanding of image and clothes and style, the whole visual world. People like Roxy Music knew how to play to their audience, not just through their music, but other tricks such as costume, makeup, or the mise-en-scène of their stage show.

Michel: I totally agree. I mean, Bryan Ferry’s whole look and style, mid-1970s, was fantastic – the military attire with the tie tucked in, the Ray-Bans, the cap. I remember seeing him play at the Palais du Congrès in Paris, and his voice was beautiful, too.

Did you have childhood ambitions of becoming a pop star or playing professionally?

Michel: As a kid, I’d watch variety shows and my big dream was to be on stage with them. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, and although I tried making my own music when I was a little older, it didn’t work out.

What about you, Frédéric?

Frédéric: No, no, never! [Laughs] Initially, I didn’t really know what to do with this obsession with music; it just came out of nowhere. I wasn’t prepared.

Tell me about some other live concerts that really touched you; when you first understood how music could affect people’s emotions, or alter the mood of a space?

Frédéric: I remember seeing Siouxsie and the Banshees at La Mutualité in about 1982; it was extraordinary, very theatrical, and the atmosphere was wild. I saw lots of gigs at Le Palace around that time, too: The Virgin Prunes and the group Weekend. It was incredible.

Michel: The one that sticks in my mind is seeing Kraftwerk play at the Espace Cardin in 1981. It was very small and intimate, and I was sitting so close to this group of what looked like robots playing these kind of computer instruments that you couldn’t really see. The next day I had to go to New York, for a wedding, and when I arrived I went to the Paradise Garage, without knowing anything about the place at the time. The DJ played the track ‘Numbers’ by Kraftwerk and all the black guys went crazy for it, dancing like mad. I thought it was just brilliant. One day I was seeing them performing like robots in Paris, and the next there was a crowd in New York who probably didn’t know Kraftwerk, but just got lost in the music.

At what point did you start thinking about music in the context of fashion?

Frédéric: I had no intention of working in fashion; I wanted to work in contemporary dance, because around that time, in 1983, there were all these great young dance companies here in Paris – people like Régine Chopinot and Daniel Larrieu – while in England there was Michael Clark. I was very drawn to that whole scene, but I was curious about fashion, too, because I realized very early on that there was a laboratory side to it, a bit like being in a recording studio, but with clothes.

‘Martin Margiela loved Warhol’s lo-fi films, so the soundtrack I made for his debut show was done by physically cutting and splicing magnetic tapes.’ 

Frédéric Sanchez

What about you, Michel? You worked in a record shop, right?

Michel: Yes, I worked in Champs Disques on the Champs-Élysées, and DJed at Le Palace at the weekend. I played in the downstairs room, which could hold about 300 people, which was good fun and hard work. I’d start at 10pm and finish at 7am, and I was DJing on my own the whole time. By 3am, I was like, ‘Shit, what am I going to put on now? I’ve played everything.’

What were people listening to at 7am at Le Palace?

Michel: That really depended on where you found yourself in the club. Upstairs was more like a dance factory, you had to play the hits, which I found pretty tiresome. And because the DJ booth was up in the mezzanine, there was no interaction with the crowd. DJing downstairs was much cooler because you could play more eclectic stuff: Public Image Ltd, Rick James, Kraftwerk…

Was that where you discovered the fashion crowd?

Michel: Yes, I met a lot of friends there, some of whom were designing menswear, so when someone was showing their collection on the catwalk, I’d come along with two turntables and my records, and play for fun.

Frédéric, what was your entrée into fashion?

Frédéric: I got a job as an assistant at Michèle Montagne’s PR agency. It wasn’t a big career move; it was out of the necessity to meet people and find my voice. I didn’t stay there long but one of Michèle’s clients was Martine Sitbon, and one day she said to Martine, ‘Look, you should ask Frédéric to do your show music because he has an excellent knowledge and culture of that world.’ That was the first time I started thinking about music in that way, as part of a runway show. Not long after that, I met Martin Margiela who at the time had just left Gaultier and was busy preparing his first collection. He asked me over to his house for dinner and showed me his brand dossier, which already had all the elements that we now associate with Margiela – it was all there in that very first collection in 1988. All of a sudden, that opened the field for me in terms of what I could do with sound. Martin worked a lot with Super 8 film, so I started working with magnetic tapes that I would physically cut and splice together.

Is that how you made the first Margiela soundtrack?

Frédéric: Yes, that became the soundtrack for Martin’s first show, and it also established my way of working, with this notion of collage – the anti-mix, if you like. We worked on that first soundtrack for two months: Martin wanted things with a very specific mood and effect. He loved the kind of lo-fi approach of Warhol’s films, so I started doing that with the sound as well; initially, with obvious things like The Velvet Underground, but then more experimental music, such as Meredith Monk. By the end, there were about 25 different tracks incorporated into that first soundtrack.

How closely did Martin want you to evoke the physicality of his actual collection in the music?

Frédéric: That was definitely part of it; the mix of imagery and physical things, too. In particular, the fabrics in the collection, and things like pleats, which he loved, and wanted to somehow express within the music.

Did it come naturally for you to think like that, too?

Frédéric: Yes, because already when I was a kid I’d made cassettes using just one track; if I loved only 10 seconds of a track, I’d record just that section, and use it again and again, to make loops. It was almost like a freeze-frame of a movie image at the most emotional moment. And that was the sort of thing I created for Martin.

So you were already exploring the idea of sound beyond just playing a track from start to finish.

Frédéric: At the first Margiela runway show you could hear the crackling of the record, that was as important as the track itself. Then we pushed that idea: I remember a few seasons later, when Martin presented the collection in an abandoned Métro station10, and for that one, there wasn’t even any music. I think I must have taken about 50 records of live recordings – classical, jazz, pop, everything – and I just extracted the moments when you could hear the audience. I cut them all up and stuck it together to create a sort of crescendo. It was good, it felt experimental, and it worked.

‘‘Hi Michel, it’s Karl. The music for tomorrow’s Chanel show is terrible. Can you come and save it?’ ‘Sure,’ I said, but I’d just taken a sleeping pill.’

Michel Gaubert

Michel, when did you start producing music for a paying fashion client?

Michel: I think it was October 1989. I started working with Karl Lagerfeld, who I knew through Champs Disque because his office was just along the Champs-Élysées from the store – we were at number 84, he was 144.

Soundtrack. Michel Gaubert & Frédéric Sanchez. - © System Magazine

Would Karl come shopping for records a lot?

Michel: He came in the mornings and would buy cartloads of them, like he does with books, furniture, everything. Then one day he said, ‘Michel, would you do the music for my next show? I want something similar to the Malcolm McLaren record, ‘House of the Blue Danube.’ I listened to the track but thought, ‘I’m not going to do the same thing.’ I ended up mixing a whole bunch of different things: De La Soul mixed with Pavarotti, Jessye Norman, Neneh Cherry… but everything in the spirit of Karl Lagerfeld. It was quite out there.

When did you first get asked to work for Chanel?

Michel: I was still working at Champs Disque when he asked me. One night, at about one in the morning, I got a call out of the blue: ‘Hi Michel, it’s Karl. I’ve been listening to the music for the Chanel show tomorrow and it’s terrible; can you come and save it?’ I said, ‘Yes, sure.’ The problem was, I’d taken a sleeping pill earlier on and wasn’t sure at all how I was going to manage. Karl just said, ‘Hold on, I’m going to pass you over to Diane de Beauvau; she’ll explain everything you’ll need to know.’ So I found myself at 5am at Diane de Beauvau’s place on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, still drowsy from the sleeping pill, and with the Chanel show starting a few hours later. Luckily, we found something that Karl liked and I’ve been working with Chanel ever since.

Frédéric, what about the start of your long-term collaboration with Prada?

Frédéric: I actually started working with Miu Miu just prior to starting with Prada. In October 1994, I was in New York producing the music for both Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui’s runway shows, and as Miu Miu was about to do its first runway show, also in New York, they contacted me. A year later, Miuccia Prada asked me to work on the Prada show in Milan, which I was super excited about because I felt that the Prada world transcended fashion and moved into the realm of contemporary art. When I saw the colours and textures of the collection – which were verging on the garish and synthetic – it immediately made me think of a young group at the time called Stereolab. I felt that their music resonated with what Miuccia Prada was doing with fashion.

Part Two
‘Some designers are nervous
about revealing their taste in music.’

Let’s talk about your working methods today. When you start discussing music with a new client, is it generally a broader conversation or is it straight into the designer saying, ‘I love techno, I’m not into jazz; I like this track, this one not so much?’

Michel: I find it’s often a conversation about everything apart from music. For example, the first time I met Phoebe [Philo], we talked about family, friends, the past – basically, everything unrelated to music – and when the conversation finally did turn to music, it was more about music that we shared an interest in, rather than specific ideas for the show. That came later. I can’t be sure, but I guess if designers knew exactly what they wanted, then they wouldn’t need people like me.

Is it important to find shared interests, tastes, common ground, in order to trigger the dialogue with a designer?

Michel: Before I met and started working with Jonathan Anderson, I loved what he did; it struck me as significant, right from the very beginning. I worked for Jonathan for a year before actually meeting him, we communicated by e-mail. I couldn’t get to London because of schedule clashes, so Jonathan would send me images of the collection, along with a series of amazingly specific adjectives – these great things like ‘mathematical aristocrat’. I’d send things back over to him and he’d respond with, ‘Love that one, that one too, don’t like that, not sure about that…’ When we did finally meet, he immediately put me at ease and the dialogue has always taken us to find what I think are interesting soundtracks, whether for his own brand or for Loewe.

Looking at a fashion designer’s work from a distance, are you able to perceive what they like in terms of music? Is there a connection in that way? Or is there a significant discrepancy?

Frédéric: There’s often discrepancy. To be honest, there aren’t that many fashion designers for whom music is so important. For every Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui or Martine Sitbon, who’ve all used music to communicate their values, there are many others for whom that’s not the case. I’ve listened to tracks non-stop for hours with Marc Jacobs, whereas other designers are nervous about even revealing their taste in music. Either way, it’s the dialogue you establish with the designer that’s important.

‘I’ve spent hours with Marc Jacobs listening to the same track non-stop, whereas other designers are nervous about even revealing their taste in music.’ 

Frédéric Sanchez

For someone like Raf Simons, who has always demonstrated his passion and understanding for music and its peripheral culture, how do you approach working with him, Michel?

Michel: The key thing with Raf is that he has extremely precise tastes and references – whether that’s aesthetic, cultural or the actual music itself. As you say, music is very much central to his world; it’s something vital to him. Raf grew up with music, and music culture fascinates him, whether that’s rap culture or rock or acid house. This is a guy who’d go clubbing at Boccaccio14 in Belgium in the early 1990s, and discovered that whole acid-house scene for himself; that’s probably why he loves Mark Lecky’s film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore so much. Raf and I have talked together a lot about different clubbing eras and cultures – from northern soul to disco to gabber – and what people wear, how they get ready, why they do this or that. So in selecting music for his shows, we’ll exchange very precise ideas and references, then move off into completely different directions.

Frédéric: The more I work on shows, the more I realize that beyond the music itself, I need to tell a story – it has to go through that channel, that conversation.

Does that conversation alter significantly depending on the collection a designer is presenting?

Frédéric: Not really, because it’s rare that a house will show me the clothes. The only house where I really get to see them is Comme des Garçons; Rei Kawakubo wants me to see the clothes.

What about at Prada? How has your collaboration and dialogue with the house grown over the past 22 years?

Frédéric: At Prada, the dialogue is everything. I mentioned before the idea of fashion operating like a laboratory of ideas, and this really is central to Prada’s activity. There are long discussions; it’s fundamental to the process. We talk about everything, from the collection and the runway-show concept to things totally unrelated. We find an idea, destroy it, find another idea, develop that; it’s an ongoing process.

Michel: It feels the same with me at Chanel. That’s why it works so well, I think. It’s this feeling of being part of something; you’re not just employed like a tool for music.

Frédéric: You have to understand what people want, and the longer a working relationship develops, the more intuitive that understanding becomes.

In the discussions you have with clients, are specific music words or terms used, or does it remain more abstract?

Frédéric: It can be anything, or there might be one single word. For example, with last year’s Comme des Garçons show, there was one word that Rei Kawakubo shared – ‘opera’ – which suited me because I have a huge passion for opera. But that didn’t mean I could turn up the following day with a standard opera track. It was more about the idea of opera. So at that point, I generally propose something, and that triggers a conversation. ‘Why did you choose that? Where could we go from here to make it more challenging, more unique?’

Does it ever start with a specific track or the name of a particular artist suggested by the designer?

Michel: It can, yes. It’s like the Vuitton show last October: the reference was a specific sequence in Michel Berger’s soundtrack to the film, Rive Droite Rive Gauche. The show was in an apartment on the Place Vendôme, and all the décor was classic 1980s style – Fortuny lamps, Charles Rennie Mackintosh chairs, the references were very specific – and Nicolas asked me to develop the music based on that.

Am I right in thinking that cinematic references are quite commonplace, considering film is the obvious convergence of storytelling, image, sound, and mise-en-scène.

Frédéric: When we did the Miu Miu show four years ago, the theme was loosely based on Belle de Jour, and because it took place in a hôtel particulier on Avenue Foch, the idea was to only use film dialogue and no music, because it just worked so well with the mood and intimacy of the setting.

Michel: That reminds me of Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe show in March 2016. It took place at UNESCO in the décor of an imaginary female art-collector’s apartment, with specific furniture like Noguchi tables and George Platt Lynes photos on the wall. Benjamin Bruno, the stylist who works with Jonathan, had recently been hypnotized to stop smoking, and he suggested using the spoken-word hypnosis recording as part of the show music. The sound in the venue was so good that everyone became totally entranced by this hypnotic recording, the words were all about taking a journey – being by the sea, running and so on – and after a few minutes the voice suddenly announces, ‘You are now a non-smoker!’ The music I put to that was a kind of pastoral Michael Nyman piece, a bit like a TV ad for air freshener. The people at the show were affected because we managed to take them somewhere, yet they had no idea where they were going.

‘Raf is a guy who’d go clubbing at Boccaccio in Belgium in the early 1990s; he discovered that whole acid-house scene for himself.’  

In the history of the fashion catwalk, what soundtrack or music, if any, was used for those early couture shows? Wasn’t it more a spoken-word presentation of the looks?

Michel: For many years, there wasn’t any music. I think it was Courrèges who was one of the first to use music, because he choreographed his runway shows and put music to them. But with Chanel, there wasn’t any for a long time. Even Saint Laurent, at the beginning when they were in the Rue Spontini, I don’t think there was any music, I think that happened later. And the shows lasted for hours. Literally! At the time of Cristóbal Balenciaga, a show could last up to two-and-a-half hours.

Frédéric: I think it was generally muzak or classical music early on. I’ve recently been looking at footage of Sonia Rykiel shows from the 1970s that took place in the boutique and you see Sonia Rykiel, perched on the stairs, talking into a microphone, in-between bits of music. She wrote all the text herself then presented it. It’s great.

To what extent does the choice of venue determine what you propose?

Frédéric: It’s very important; it totally changes the perception of the story. The Miu Miu film-dialogue soundtrack could never have been done in the bigger Place d’Iéna venue where Miu Miu now shows. It worked because of the setting, the intimacy, the story.

Michel: In the opposite way, Chanel’s ready-to-wear shows at the Grand Palais are presented to 2,500 people, so the music has to be able to connect on a big scale. It couldn’t just be a string quartet in the corner; it has to fill the place. The Grand Palais has very difficult acoustics; it’s taken a long time to find the right way to do the sound there, and of course, that also changes from season to season depending on the décor and concept that Karl chooses.

For those Chanel shows, is it a constant dialogue between yourself and Karl? I’m guessing you no longer get the frantic call from him the night before?

Michel: It starts with a general chat about music; it’s very rare that he actually describes the collection to me. It happens in his office, which isn’t all that big, and everyone is there – the team, the assistants – and everyone says what they want. Karl will give me a reference, which I’ll go away and interpret and translate into something else.

Frédéric: With me it’s pretty closed, there aren’t many people around. I don’t like working with lots of people around me – more than 10 and I start to get anxious – because the rapport with the designer needs to be almost personal. Even though Prada operates at a very large scale, the ideation and research still takes place in a small room between two or three people. That’s what continues to make it so interesting.

Michel: I agree with Frédéric that it can be very testing when there are too many people involved. Everyone has an opinion and there comes a point when I simply cannot listen to what everyone’s proposing.

Frédéric, how is your work with Prada different now to when you started?

Frédéric: I just think we try to go a bit further each season, push ourselves into places that might have seemed uncomfortable before. For example, for the Fall/Winter 2014 show, the starting point was Fassbinder’s films and Pina Bausch’s choreography. But we then started developing an entire mise-en-scène that played with the idea of space and performance. I transcribed some of Kurt Weill’s work, which was then interpreted by musicians and the actress Barbara Sukowa, while I added some extra pre-recorded sounds. The whole thing was performed live and as a result, became a real reflection on the idea of what a performance could entail.

‘Rei Kawakubo shared one word with me – opera. But that didn’t mean I could turn up the next day with an opera track. It was the idea of opera.’

Is it useful to talk with the stylist, the make-up artist, the hair stylist when you start working on a runway show?

Frédéric: I need to have someone in front of me to talk to, for sure. I can’t go into it blindly. But yes, I often ask about the hair, the make-up, the venue…

Michel: …the shoes! That is what can define a show for me, in terms of pace, rhythm, attitude. I mean, just thinking about Chanel, the difference between flats or heels or thigh-high boots can alter the way I think about the music.

Soundtrack. Michel Gaubert & Frédéric Sanchez. - © System Magazine

Do you ever have to fight to convince a client that what you are proposing is the best solution, even if they’re clealy not into it?

Michel: It depends. If it’s a client that I love, and whose clothes I think I really understand, and for whom – in my opinion – the soundtrack plays a significant part in the show, then yes, I will always fight for something.

Are there ever instances when you’ll play something you really don’t like at all personally, but that you know works for the brand?

Michel: Not often. There are times when it’s painful because people think you’re just a DJ machine, and that doesn’t really interest me. Then again, I always think the music that I play is right for the event I’m playing at. It might be something I don’t normally like, but it works in that context.

Frédéric: I agree that there are times when it’s not your own personal taste, but what is personal is the way that you do it, or the meaning you associate with it. For example, with the Lanvin show last season there was a Prince song; I don’t particularly listen to Prince, but it reminded me of certain things, like a stage production of Hamlet by Patrice Chéreau, which had used a Prince song in the middle of it. The memory was interesting to me, and it felt right in the context of the Lanvin show.

Michel: Talking of Prince, about five years ago, there was a Chanel show at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, so I thought I’d watch Prince’s film Under the Cherry Moon, as I knew it had been filmed there. So I’m watching it, thinking, ‘Hang on, it looks like Kristin Scott Thomas’ character is wearing Chanel.’ At the end I saw in the credits, ‘Kristin Scott Thomas, dressed by Chanel’, and I was like, bingo! Instinct or luck? Who knows, but it worked.

Are you in the habit of sending your designer clients music all year round, irrespective of a dialogue you’re having about a particular show?

Frédéric: No, I never send actual music, even though I make a point of maintaining a constant dialogue with the designers I work with; it’s more an exchange of ideas, stories, events, emotions…

Michel: I send them music all the time. In 2014, I went to see that Jonathan Glazer film, Under the Skin, at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles; I sat in the front row and was blown away – it was totally in-your-face, and quite trippy. The soundtrack, which is by Mica Levi, is absolutely fantastic, so when I got back to Paris I got hold of Raf Simons and said, ‘Listen, I’ve seen this incredible movie, it was made for you! You’ve got to go and see it, and the music completely goes with your approach to music and sound.’ We ended up looping five tracks from the film and using them for the entirety of the next Raf Simons show – the music was playing for an hour and a half in total: from the moment people entered the venue, standing around waiting, then during the actual show, and afterwards, right up until the last person left. Raf has since told me that he’s now seen Under the Skin about 25 times.

Part Three
‘There are days when I’m super reactive to finding new music, then others when I’m just as uninspired.’

To what extent has technology changed the way that you search for music? The choice out there is exhaustive today.

Frédéric: As there is too much of everything, it’s become difficult. You have to know what you personally want to do, and what your approach to music is, and the narratives you want to explore through music. I mean, I listen to a lot of music, but somewhere along the line you have to narrow it down with your own filter.

So it’s become more of a curatorial exercise.

Frédéric: Yes.

Where do you go to find music?

Frédéric: A lot of time spent on the Internet, finding specialized websites and blogs. Maybe it’s because the means of communication are extremely well developed now compared to 25 years ago, but there seems to be an abundance of interesting things out there.

‘I make a point of maintaining a constant dialogue with the designers I work with; it’s more an exchange of ideas, stories, events, emotions…’ 

Michel, how do you find new things? Do you say to yourself, ‘I need to be in constant exploratory mode’? Or is it more like: every Tuesday is new music day?

Michel: What I hear on a day-to-day basis will be things that my boyfriend, Ryan, is playing, or stuff on the radio. I’ll clear a day or two to spend about 10 hours in the studio, just listening to music. There are days when I’m super reactive to finding things, then others when I’m just as uninspired. There doesn’t seem to be any particular stimulation to make it work; you can’t force it.

Frédéric, do you make a point of listening to music every day?

Frédéric: No, not at all. In fact, for a while now I’ve been composing my own music and that’s what inspires me the most; I’ll look for other artists’ music, based on the compositions I’ve been making.

Do you compose every day?

Frédéric: Yes, I’m always composing.

With the goal of it being used in a show context, or released in some capacity?

Frédéric: No, sometimes just for the pleasure. I’ve always been doing lots of things on the side – personal work, sound installations – so this was a logical next step. It doesn’t feel all that different from when I was younger, making music by sticking magnetic tapes together.

And it’s an isolated way of working.

Frédéric: Oh yes, totally isolated. I’ve just spent the past five years living out in Normandy. I installed a studio there and was able to do a lot of work. I’ve used programs and instruments I didn’t know before; things that are so technically sophisticated that I couldn’t even describe them.

Michel, you’d mentioned that you tried composing stuff when you were younger, but it didn’t work out. Have there been times when you’ve been tempted to compose music for a show?

Michel: To be honest, no. I don’t feel the need to compose, and I think I’d be much too tough on myself.

Beyond the fashion shows themselves, everyone needs so much more music content now – for films, online, events, stores. To what extent does the purity of the show music get diluted or distorted once you’re selecting playlists for a retail environment on the other side of the world?

Frédéric: Well, what’s interesting is the possibility of starting with the runway show and then having that narrative branch out into many different areas across a brand, to create a bigger picture. But I’ve done music for Prada and Miu Miu stores, and it’s a completely different setting to the runway. I mean, it’s 12 hours of music a day, and it changes practically every month. It’s complicated because you have to be aware of the potential sensitivities associated with different regions around the world.

Michel: It’s the same thing with Chanel: for stores in the USA and the Gulf countries, there’s a sort of censoring that takes place. Tracks go through a computer program that identifies what it construes as inappropriate material. I had to take out a track simply because it had the lyric, ‘You gotta take off your red dress.’ The Depeche Mode tracks ‘Master and Servant’ and ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ have both been refused, too. In fact, I’ve sent playlists where half of the tracks don’t make it. The computer’s censoring system clearly has high moral standards!

Part Four
‘Does Bruno Mars playing live to thousands of people at
a Victoria’s Secret show have anything to do with fashion?’

The future of the fashion show remains up in the air. On one hand, some brands and designers are opting out, in favour of, say, producing a film, while others such as Victoria’s Secret are staging increasingly big-scale events with live music. What are your thoughts on this?

Michel: In answer to your question, I’d simply ask another question: ‘Is Bruno Mars playing live to thousands of people at a Victoria’s Secret show anything to do with fashion?’

Frédéric: In some respects, the scale of the runway show hasn’t changed that much. In the 1980s you had Mugler doing huge shows for thousands of people.

Michel: Funnily enough, just yesterday I was doing some research and came across the 1984 Mugler show at Le Zénith, which I actually saw live. The finale is beautiful: all angels in golden dresses and bronze wings, with tons of confetti, and then Pat Cleveland as the Virgin Mary descends from the ceiling; the music is a mix of Siouxsie and an opera concerto. You watch that and by comparison the Victoria’s Secret show is just one big commercial – which I’ve nothing against – but there’s nothing artistic going on, no real content.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on Kanye West launching both a fashion collection and a new album in front of industry and public alike at Madison Square Garden.

Michel: I see no interest in that sort of thing. It’s his trip, why not, but I don’t think it has any influence on the fashion world. There are things by Kanye that I like a lot, but I don’t think that show was particularly pioneering.

‘When people comment that the show’s music is great but they cannot recall the collection, it means something isn’t working. It’s not a compliment.’

To what extent does the image and the attitude of an artist influence whether you’ll select their music for a show?

Michel: It’s always important. A show is an entirety: an attitude, a venue, a type of music, lights; everything comes together to make that work. Whether it’s explicit or not, you use the image of an artist because it fits with the context, or because it makes an interesting contrast.

Frédéric: For a while, there was a whole series of Miu Miu shows where the significance of the soundtrack artist set the tone for everything else – it was Björk one season, Kate Bush another. Everything those artists represent and express gave extra meaning to the show.

These days there are more designers, more brands, more consumers, and more music to be produced and shared than ever before. Is this a good thing?

Frédéric: Right now, things are good. But that’s because I forced myself to rethink how I wanted to work. In the 2000s, the work started to become too mechanical. At one point, so much of the creative process was happening at the last minute, and the idea of actual collaboration was compromised. It was in danger of becoming a factory operation. So I made a conscious decision to return to the working methods I’d enjoyed at the beginning of my collaborations: working two or three months in advance, actually talking to people, thinking about the process, emphasizing the element of research and the laboratory – just discovering the pleasure again.

Michel: What Frédéric says resonates with me. Things have indeed become too mechanical. I found that some of the bigger but less creative environments place little importance on time being a key ingredient. There have been instances when I’ve been requested to arrive two days before the show – because the stylist consultant couldn’t be there until then and you can’t make any decisions without them – and I’m shown the collection, and then given an hour before the client will say, ‘Right, so what are we listening to?’ No, that’s not how it works. I mean, I could do something, of course, but it won’t please me, and probably won’t please the client.

Finally, what is the sign of a successful runway-show soundtrack?

Frédéric: It’s when the music and all the other elements – the collection, the casting, the venue, the hair and make-up – come together, and one doesn’t detract from the others. When people comment that the music’s great but they cannot recall the collection, it means that something isn’t working. It’s not a compliment.

Taken from System No. 9.