Of all the senses, sound can be the most looming. A pin drop, crashing waves, or thunder are distinct sounds eliciting unique mental and physical reactions. And sound in any category of performance is key to a fully comprehensive show. For this installment of Elements of Runway, the Crescendo will look into some examples of Runway where audio acted as a magical thread sewing its frequencies from one model to the next.
One way to score a collection is through a long-standing collaboration between fashion and renowned sound designers such as Michael Gaubert, Jerry Bouthier, or Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman). Another is to choose specific tracks to ballad a catwalk. Regardless of one’s method, we want to explore why sound is so integral in fashion presentations.
First and foremost, the sound must be equally as transportive as the garments, and in some cases, maybe even more. With every new era comes a unique sound. For example, when Raf Simons joined forces with Miuccia Prada, Plastikman was an unspoken gain to Prada's latest chapter— marking a differentiated direction with an alternative bass. Simons's partialness to hypnotic sounds made his co-creative director's presence felt. Simons and Plastikman's continuous collaboration was undeniably in-house, whose relationship remarkably dates back to the early '90s parties in Ghent when Simons was known as just a young designer.
It's his synth–his sequencers that pulsate in unison with the models' energy—posing as a rhythmic metronome, setting the tone, and having an inverse way of controlling the audience and stage alike. Musical crescendos and building suspense that melody each reveal. Like viewing any subtitled film, you watch once for the dialogue and a second for the cinematography. The same could be said about any catwalk; when properly executed, the sound design is something to digest with eyes wide shut.
Especially with recent years and pre-recorded shows becoming commonplace, musical backdrops were given more priority when conceptualizing a performance leaving little room for technical error, as is always a lurking concern with live presentations. And with that, beautiful minds can combine forces to develop a beautiful moment, as seen in Prada FW 21. There were several moments where Plastikman echoed a clattering-like sound harmoniously with glittering platform heels trotting across Rem Koolhaas's marbled floors, bringing those footsteps from one's screen to one's ear.
Pre-recorded or live shows are a preference that is hard to take. So naturally, the cinematic experience of a rehearsed shot and the edited show becomes an entirely different, immortalized body of work. But to say it tops the hundreds of hours of production spent on some eight to ten minutes before a live audience would diminish its brilliance.
Dries Van Noten, another auteur, has decades of experience in materializing prodigious catwalks with ideal music to back them. However, while running through several seasons, his dedication to specific artists and their whole, undivided tracks is not just some pattern. Instead, Van Noten intentionally sniffs out songs that accentuate his designs, like searching for truffles.
The FW 2011, both Men and Women's, collection took a remarkable level of mastery in song form— embroidering the spirit of David Bowie in his designs that season was not enough, and the slicked reddish-blonde hair didn't cut it either. So instead, not only channeling but receiving the tracks for "Golden Years" and the master tape of "Heroes" from The Thin White Duke himself, both to be broken down and remixed by Ghent-based musical duo Soulwax.
This element here didn't exist merely as a coincidence. From music to design, every conscious choice was meant to be symbiotic, as this show was an ode to the 19-year-old Van Noten, whose hero also happened to be the writer behind the similarly titled song. This level of digging and remastering gives Van Noten shows more layered storytelling, existing beyond his intricately dyed and woven garments.
Outside of the models, the sound brings the garments to life. Recapped imagery on Vogue Runway only presents a longing to have been there, curious what the atmosphere might have been in the room. Outside of recent digital presentations, sound is an element that cannot be photographed and eternalized. Sound in Runway is the coup de grâce.
Text by Shahrnaz Javid