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Fashion and Music Find New Ways to Partner in the Pandemic

It may be a while before concerts and red carpets are allowed again, but luxury brands are finding creative ways to engage with the music industry in the meantime.
Playlists from Supreme, Alexander McQueen and Studio Neu | Source: Photo by BoF
  • Alexandra Mondalek

NEW YORK, United StatesLuxury fashion and the music industry have a symbiotic relationship. Chart-topping artists are seated in the front row at fashion week. They wear designer labels on the red carpet and in their concerts. Brands sponsor intimate performances at their flagship stores for an exclusive guest list.

So much for all that. The coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to concerts and music festivals at least through the fall, if not 2021. Designers are planning online runway shows or cancelling them altogether. The red carpets are in storage.

Now brands are finding new, quarantine-friendly ways to keep the music playing online.

In April, Alexander McQueen launched a Spotify channel featuring music from its runway shows, with input from composer John Gosling, who has produced soundtracks for the brand for decades. Supreme's new Spotify channel includes five R&B-heavy playlists. Valentino hosted an Alicia Keys performance on Instagram Live, while Jacquemus featured Steve Lacy in the brand's Spring collection in a Facetime photo shoot. The luxury watch brand Bulova is producing live musical performances on Instagram, accompanied by Spotify playlists.


Music can influence consumers' moods and create powerful mental associations, making them more receptive to a brand's marketing. To be sure, the historical relationship between fashion and music has long been deep, as musical subcultures have created entire codes of dressing (the 70s punk rock scene in New York and London instantly conjures images of leather jackets, metal stud hardware, and safety pins). What's more, now that the usual touch-points where fashion has historically put music to use have gone into hibernation — in physical retail stores or at runway shows — curated brand playlists and other music streams are more important than ever as they allow consumers to engage with a brand on their own terms.

"Now's the time to ask, 'what tools do we have left to connect with our audience?'" said Arman Naféei, a sound designer and brand consultant whose firm, Studio Neu, has created Spotify "quarantine" playlists for brands including The Attico, Giorgio Armani, and Goop.

Audio is a relatively untapped market. Brands haven’t embraced audio opportunities like they have visuals, the market research firm Ipsos said in a February report. Based on an analysis of over 2,000 video advertisements, 92 percent of ads featured distinctive visual assets like logos and characters prominently, while 8 percent did so with branded audio cues — brand-specific music being used prominently only 3 percent of the time.

Brands also have a captive audience these days, with consumers integrating music into their lives in new ways. In a recent survey conducted by Billboard and Nielsen Music, Americans reported spending 60 percent more time with music and other forms of entertainment like television and social media, and music video streaming in particular is up as well.

Until now, fashion brands haven’t milked music’s impact on brand building — which experts say can extend as far as to influencing shopping behaviour — for all it’s worth.

Playlists make the brand more accessible.

"[Playlists] make the brand more accessible, and it gives an identity to the designer or to the brand I'm working with," said fashion's leading sound director Michel Gaubert, whose clients have included global brands like Valentino and Christian Dior. He is currently putting together Apple Music playlists for Chanel, which feature a mix of artists from Parisian pianist Chassol to disco diva Donna Summer.

An intimate collection might call for a moodier, dark soundtrack, said Gaubert. Tapping a brand’s roots allows for some sonic inspiration Gaubert said that a particularly harmonious pairing was when Fendi commissioned Ninos de Brasil, a popular Italian electronic band fronted by Nico Vascellari — who also happens to have a close relationship with the Fendi family — because they both broadcast strong Italian heritage.

Playlists should be built around a theme, and use images, descriptions and titles to make sure the audience gets the message. Updating a few playlists regularly is better than asking users to subscribe to new ones. The most successful will be shared on social media, and can turn into franchises that people return to again and again. For example, the Marc Jacobs brand has released "Mixtape Mondays" on Spotify, curated by friends of the brand like director Sofia Coppola and artist Chloe Wise, every week for a little over a month.


Frederic Sanchez, a sound designer who produces music for brands like Prada, added that it's also important for brands to create a mood board for their playlist that is cohesive to the other music a brand uses in its advertising, runway shows, or in-store. (For its part, Prada kicked off its official Spotify profile launch with a party held during Paris Fashion Week in March 2019.)

Although music streaming platforms offer an array of options to create paid advertisements, creating brand playlists is a relatively affordable way to engage consumers now, when marketing budgets may be tight.

“If somebody on the team can put together a Spotify playlist relatively quickly and easily and do it all...for a couple thousand dollars, that’s a drop in the bucket as a percentage of budget,” said Joe Yakuel, founder of performance branding agency Within, referring to the cost of assigning a full-time employee to create a playlist, though brands might also spend money commissioning a DJ or sound director.

Brands can solicit playlists ideas from consumers or commission DJs with large social media followings to create them. Direct-to-consumer makeup brand Il Makiage said that it adds songs to its work-from-home "Slaylists" based on direct messages it receives on Instagram from followers. Doing so has created a virtuous cycle of engagement that has led to higher traffic on the brand's website, said Co-Founder and Chief Executive Oran Holtzman.

Meanwhile,Steve Madden-owned shoe brand Dolce Vita and menswear brand Orlebar Brown both separately commissioned New York-based DJ and influencer Isaac Hindin-Miller to create at-home playlists for the brands.

It’s mainly larger brands that can afford to work with top artists. Smaller labels might tap emerging talent who complement their brand codes, Naféei said. And Spotify playlists are free.

Brands have only just begun to capitalise on the intersection of fashion and music.

“Partnerships that triangulate between Spotify, the fashion label, and musician would be interesting to explore,” said Brett Volker, founding partner of sensory experience company Listen. “Some examples might be digital runway shows that are a collaboration with a musician and or leverage Spotify data to curate or create the soundtrack, or even live recordings at shows that are later released as Spotify sessions.”


Fashion brands cannot use music commercially unless they own the rights to a song or album, an expense many cannot afford, said Gaubert. He said brands could work with their music industry partners to build out digital libraries where they have access to certain works. Naféei suggested working with newer talent who complement a brand’s existing codes, offering them an exclusive contract to produce music for the brand.

“Are people hungry to buy something right now? No, but they are hungry to consume entertainment and are open to being engaged, so now is the time to use music as a tool to connect," Naféei said.

We’re tracking the latest on the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the global fashion business. Visit our live blog for everything you need to know.

Related Articles: 

What Does Your Brand Sound Like?Opens in new window ]

Anatomy of a Fashion Show SoundtrackOpens in new window ]

How to Make Digital Fashion Weeks WorkOpens in new window ]

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