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Op-Ed | What Does Your Brand Sound Like?

Despite the emotional power of music and the growth of streaming services like Spotify, fashion labels are missing the opportunity to create sonic signatures, argues Arman Naféei.
Virgil Abloh performs during Lollapalooza 2018 at Grant Park | Source: Getty Images
By
  • Arman Naféei

Platforms like Instagram have become saturated; cluttered with images that offer little more than a quick media fix. It's an increasingly tough, and expensive, place for fashion brands to forge meaningful relationships with consumers. Sure, fashion is fundamentally a visual medium. But what about tapping the other senses? What about sound?

Fashion ultimately depends on creating an emotional response in shoppers; let's face it, nobody really needs another handbag when you think about it rationally. And yet fashion brands have largely underused one of the most emotional media experiences of all: music.

After all, listening to pleasurable music releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone in the brain, just like eating chocolate or having sex. Music is also associated with the release of oxytocin, a hormone linked with empathy, trust, and relationship building.

This is not to say that fashion does not tap the power of music. It’s almost impossible to attend fashion week without going to parties featuring musicians, but they are too often the same big-name superstars or hot music groups du jour that everyone else is using too.

It's an increasingly tough, and expensive, place for fashion brands to forge meaningful relationships with consumers.

Few brands have forged a unique sonic signature with the same degree of attention and precision that they bring to their images. Indeed, when you think about the major fashion houses that dominate the industry, it’s easy to think about what they look like; their visual identities are well defined, relatively differentiated and easy to recall. But how do they sound?

Historically, brands from Hedi Slimane's Dior Homme to Christopher Bailey's Burberry have more meaningfully intertwined their visual aesthetics with specific musical signatures. To be sure, it's hard to think of Slimane's breakthrough skinny silhouette without hearing indie rock in your head. But this is the exception that proves the point: music is typically just a topping for fashion brands when crafting and communicating their identities.

This is despite the enormous popularity of platforms like Spotify. According to recent results, Spotify has attracted 248 million monthly active users and 113 million subscribers, with its paid user base growing 31 percent year-over-year. Then, there’s Apple Music with 60 million subscribers, according to figures disclosed in June, and Amazon’s Unlimited and Prime Music with another 32 million users as of April. A recent report by music industry body International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which surveyed 34,000 people in 21 different countries, revealed that people spend around 18 hours a week listening to music with 89 percent of respondents using at least one on-demand streaming service.

Few brands have forged a unique sonic signature with the same degree of attention and precision that they bring to their images.

For brands, the opportunity is too big to ignore.

In fashion, some are showing the way forward. Virgil Abloh, for example, is ahead of the pack. He has made music an important element of his work as men's artistic director at Louis Vuitton. First, he appointed DJ and producer Benjamin Benstead aka Benji B to the position of musical director to oversee the sound of the brand, from its parties to its runway shows.

"Having a guide for the sound and feel sonically is important, especially when you work with creatives who take music as seriously as they do any other form of art — it's not just a convenient soundtrack," Benstead told The Business of Fashion last year. "I try to translate their vision into a music centre." Abloh has also experimented with "Televised Radio," a digital radio channel that he has described as "an audio mood board" broadcast from the Louis Vuitton headquarters in Paris.

It will be interesting to see if the designer integrates music into his marketing mix in a more meaningful way in future. For now, it’s an approach that others could learn from and build upon. For fashion brands, creating a sonic strategy that’s less fad-like and more deeply rooted in their core values is a powerful way to connect with consumers, from their shows to their stores to streaming audio content that is becoming a bigger part of our lives.

Arman Naféei is a sound designer and DJ and works with André Balazs Properties and the founder of the agency StudioNeu.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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