michel gaubert is fashion week's monarch of music
We talk to the maestro behind the show soundtracks to Céline, Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton.
In an age where everyone with a laptop and a look can be a DJ, Michel Gaubert is the kind of man you actually want to talk about music to. He may have both, but unlike his hipster pretenders he won't namedrop underground bands you've never heard of or talk about music as if it's some sort of esoteric phenomenon you wouldn't get. "Because I'm a fashion DJ, or whatever you want to call me, it's not like I'm supposed to know everything. I listen to stuff that's disposable just like everyone else. If you're a stylist you don't have to wear Comme every day. Sometimes you need to wear a pair of New Balance or Converse," he instructs over the phone from Paris, his accent continental though slightly Americanised.
For a man usually referred to as a 'sound designer' by a reverential fashion press, and who's hailed as the unparalleled champion when it comes to fusing fashion and music - he counts Céline, Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton among his seasonal soundtrack clients - Gaubert is refreshingly relaxed about living up to his reputation. He'll talk about the epidemic of mediocrity in music, but rolls his eyes at music snobs and their guilty pleasures. "My proudest pleasure is watching Beyoncé's 7/11 video 20 times in a row when it came out, she's not someone I especially like, but I thought that video was clever when it came out," he says. With some 80,000 followers, Gaubert has become the fashion industry's Instagram oracle of pop culture, feeding his fan base a steady stream of daily posts commenting ironically on a celebrity culture he's as astutely opinionated about outside the social media sphere. If Gaubert's line between mockery and salute sometimes seems fine, don't mistake his fixation for fandom. "Fame doesn't ruin music," he says. "Fame ruins people. All those girls and bands."
After hitting the party scene hard in his younger days, the 54-year-old now lives a sober life in Paris when it comes to all things mind-numbing. "I don't watch TV anymore. I don't like to be fed all that stuff," he says. Overload, in all its representations, is a big aversion in the world of Gaubert. Posed with the question of which music stars employ fashion best, he's at a loss. "All the stuff I see is mostly red carpet with celebrities wearing impossible clothes. People go over the top, they look like Christmas trees. I think they're lacking a bit of simplicity. Life isn't so complicated like that."
Turn the question around to designers and their musical ways, however, and it's an entirely different case. He lists Raf Simons, Phoebe Philo, and Karl Lagerfeld as some of fashion's top music mavens next to Nicolas Ghesquière, whose soundtracks Gaubert has done since the early Balenciaga days. "The last Louis Vuitton show we did in October, Nicolas wanted the sound of silence. I worked with a guy called Leopold Ross in Los Angeles and we mixed it together. It was super clever." Gaubert has been interpreting the work of the world's biggest designers in music for over two decades, and has a personal archive that counts more than 80,000 records and upwards of 400,000 digital tracks. The fashion landscape, he says, is suffering from a kind of popularisation and its own excess, he designs his show soundtracks to become an integral, memorable and, as a result, almost invaluable part of the collection. "The movie of 2014 for me was Under the Skin, because it was a like a fashion show. Everything was put together in such a way it all made one. I listened to the record over and over again, and that's what I like to do: when people walk out of the show, I like it when they want to listen to the music again."
Because of Gaubert's position as the music prophet of fashion, he isn't just bombarded with records throughout the season ("piles and piles") but also with the inevitable question of who the next big artist will be. It's a question he says is redundant in a time when people become fads that last "for a month and then it's finished." In fashion as in music, he's excited by longevity generated by making a bigger statement through your platform than simply selling your product. "Shows can become a social statement, a take on our society and what we're going through. People like to make clothes nice… and the point has been proven, you know? When Dior created the New Look he made those big long skirts and was using a lot of fabric right after the war, and the women wearing them were, like, being stoned on the street because they were wasting fabric, and the country was poor and all that kind of stuff. But that was a political statement from Dior: 'the war is over'," Gaubert says. "Fashion should reflect what we're going through, because that's what makes it desirable. That's how I see it."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Ryan Aguilar