Couturesque "Music Week" is a week-long series investigating the reciprocal relationship between fashion and the music industry, looking back on how the two disciplines have influenced one another and thinking about the connection between the modern music and fashion industries.
Whether its high end X high street, luxury X sport, sport X celebrity, the fashion industry is fond of collaborations.
When two art forms collide, they can create history, hysteria, and a whole new class of creation. Music and fashion have been two art forms where collision has created a new phenomenon. All you have to do is look at the fashion industry today and see how many musicians are designing, modelling for, and endorsing brands. Kanye West’s Adidas partnership (Yeezy) has become nothing short of iconic, and Rihanna has singlehandedly brought Puma into the high fashion scene.
But why music? Why do music and fashion marry so well, and how does this affect the landscape of the industry?
In 2003, Billboard magazine wrote that “music stars are the fastest-rising groups of fashion’s celebrity.” Dari Marder, former creative director of fashion brand Candies, also told the publication that “music and fashion have become so intertwined that it’s a natural fit.” At the time Candies had featured Kelly Clarkson, Kelly Osbourne and Destiny’s Child in their ad campaigns.
Musicians have long been one of fashion’s favourite muses. Take David Bowie for example. Bowie has long been one of the industry's most iconic muses; even after his tragic passing in 2016 he still manages to influence the design scene, with Jean Paul Gaultier paying tribute to the late musician in his 2016 couture show. Through his experimentation with fashion, Bowie cemented his status as not only a musical legend but a cultural icon and touchstone, so much so that the Victoria & Albert museum in London hosted a whole exhibition around it in 2003. The idea that together, fashion and music can change the world is not so unreasonable when you consider Bowie’s ability to tap into people’s emotions through his interdisciplinary art which has inspired others for decades, and even beyond his passing.
Musical subcultures are also intrinsic to the fashion scene. In recent years Saint Laurent became heavily inspired by the LA rock ‘n’ roll scene. Under the leadership of Hedi Slimane, Saint Laurent was all about the unbuttoned silk shirt, skinny jean, leather boots, 'heroin chic' look long sported by rock stars. Furthermore, Vivienne Westwood would look a lot different, or not even exist, without the Punks. In fact, Westwood is considered one of the architects of the Punk fashion movement in the 1970s, having described herself as "messianic about punk, seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way." Westwood’s partner at the time, Malcolm McLaren, was the manager of the Sex Pistols, and together they dressed the band in their own designs inspired by BDSM, bondage and bikers, thus birthing the Punk movement and creating an iconic subculture in which both fashion and music were core parts of its DNA. In this case, the relationship between the two disciplines is symbiotic and they each enhance the significance of the other.
However, while the fashion industry used to be simply inspired by musical genres and performers, it is now starting to see musicians becoming the designers themselves. First Victoria Beckham, and now Rihanna and Kanye West have been two of the most high profile musicians turned designers from the past couple of years.
But is this really the same as taking inspiration from music? Not really, no. While the collections are designed by musicians, their musical influences are not obviously, or even at all, translated into their designs. The industry landscape is changing and musicians are now becoming the creatives, rather than the muses; in a way, some magic feels lost because of this shift. When the focus is solely autobiographical, the story and mysticism of the clothes is lost. When Jean Paul Gaultier’s Bowie inspired designs came down the catwalk, it wasn't Gautier people were thinking about - instead they were inspired to ponder the late great musician and his legendary legacy. The opportunity for translation and collaboration has given way to some of the most inspiring musical looks of the past half-century, and when this becomes homogenized (not to mention assigned to the skill set of untrained fashion amateurs rather than experienced designers), do we risk losing some of the innovation that fashionistas and musicians once coproduced?
Together, fashion and music have the power to start movements, create subcultures, and skyrocket careers. There is a certain magic about the pairing, a magic that we hope will continue long into the future.