Image courtesy of Valentino

Labrinth on soundtracking Valentino's AW22 couture show in Rome

The morning after the Maison's show on the Spanish Steps, the 'Euphoria' producer and singer filled us in on his spellbinding performance.

by Joe Bobowicz
11 July 2022, 2:02pm

Image courtesy of Valentino

On a balmy Friday evening in Rome, at the presentation of Valentino’s AW22 couture collection, haunting incantations floated down the Spanish Steps, reverberating across the Piazza di Spagna. From a plinth above, British singer and producer Labrinth gave a stellar performance — a symphony of cerebral tones, fizzes of dance and acoustic ballad. 

Commissioned for the Maison’s haute couture collection by creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, this was Labrinth’s second soundtrack for Valentino, designed in collaboration with orchestral arranger Alex Baranowski. “I already had the pleasure of listening to Labrinth’s music during one of my shows — an exceptional one, in Milan,” says Pierpaolo. For this occasion, the brief centred on new beginnings — the concept at the heart of the collection itself.

“Labrinth’s music is deeply emotional and difficult to classify,” affirms Pierpaolo. “Both aspects make his art familiar to my ear and heart.” Through this rejection of canonical strictures, Labrinth, Pierpaolo tells us, resonates with the Maison’s manifesto “to understand without judgement”. Citing the musician’s soundtrack to Euphoria, Pierpaolo pinpoints a deft skill for dealing with issues of identity and growth through the medium of autotune, drill and mercurial hooks spliced with filmic tact. “Lab can do poetry with and through his music, and poetry is hope. I think this is what we all need right now.”

Indeed, poetry ensued. Billowing trains, saccharine pinks and floral ruching descended the staircase to Labrinth’s sonic tapestry, a procession closed by the petites mains’ lap of victory and a live rendition of the artist’s 2012 song “Beneath Your Beautiful”. The morning after his performance, we caught up with Labrinth over FaceTime. Despite the tight schedule, the star is in high spirits, beaming as he talks.

the producer Labrinth and Pierpaolo Piccioli sitting on the spanish steps in rome, before the Valentino AW22 show

How did you feel that night, and now, in the afterglow?
Walking up to the mic, I was like, “This shit better go right!” It’s been quite a few weeks of putting it together. The idea was to compose a soundtrack for a fashion experience with orchestral arrangements. I haven’t really been to a fashion show where the music is more film-based, like a soundtrack. At the afterparty last night, lots of people told me they hadn’t heard anything like that before at a fashion show, so I was really happy.

What was your starting point for the score?
I wanted to make sure the music actually blended with the speed of somebody walking on a catwalk. Pierpaolo wanted it to be tender, with an energy of love. A lot of fashion shows, they love doing the EDM, house shit. I wanted an element of electronica and techno in there, because I love it, but I also thought, “How do I approach this in a soft or romantic way?”

The opening track says “everything beautiful is leaning into me. And I lean into everything, I let it all become one inside of me”. Is it from a new song?
No, actually, my wife Muz wrote it.

the producer Labrinth and Pierpaolo Piccioli standing on the spanish steps in rome before the Valentino AW22 show

Yeah, literally a few nights before the show, I asked her to do it. She was — as a mother and a person — expressing how she felt to a friend on the phone, about realising herself and how when she’s not afraid to evolve or grow she feels peaceful in herself. I was like, “That sounds very close to what Pierpaolo and I were talking about.” So, I said, “Just go on the mic and explain what that feeling is.” Pierpaolo loved it. He had said, “I want romance.” Well, this is my idea of romance: my wife. When she’s talking about Aether [their child] and growth, it’s the same as what Pierpaolo talked about.

Across your work — for example, “Thunderclouds”, “All For Us” or Kanye’s “God Is” — there’s a massive difference in sound. How do you get into each headspace?
It’s like method acting. Like, for me, Heath Ledger was incredible. Or Daniel Day Lewis — you just see him in a movie, like, “How did you become this whole new person?” I see music the same way. If I want to be a funk musician, I will literally go on YouTube and watch funk artists, watch the audience, what they used to wear. Sometimes, I write music to the vibe of the artist. When I was with Kanye, his energy felt a certain way, so I would write that way. When I worked with LSD, three artists just being creative and not taking it too seriously, the music came out that way.

Pierpaolo is credited for maintaining Valentino’s heritage but also bringing a spirit of modernity and diversity to the fashion industry. How do you translate that musically?
Sometimes, an environment or a scene starts to have its customs. When we go to a fashion show, we all pretty much know what we’re going to see. Someone’s going to have some electronic music or EDM playing in the background or weird symphony music going on. That can feel a bit too Zoolander-ish. It takes for someone like Pierpaolo to go, “Okay, let’s reimagine this shit. Even if people don’t get it, let’s look forward and start to see our models in different colours and different shapes.” That’s how I think with music.

the producer Labrinth and Pierpaolo Piccioli sitting on the spanish steps in rome before the Valentino AW22 show

From Euphoria and Beyoncé's The Gift to writing number ones, your oeuvre is varied. What sparked the move into fashion?
It’s just another avenue I can see something in. Like in the collection you saw the other night, I can hear the music for different things. Maybe it sounds weird, but I can look at a tree and hear a song, or water and hear a whole piece of music.

Did you see any of the collection before you created the piece?
No, I based it on Pierpaolo’s instructions. I won’t lie, while I was singing, I almost stopped because the models started coming down on the first record. I was like, “Oh, this looks pretty cool!” Then, “Oh shit, you’re singing, don’t forget the words.”

That’s lovely though, to see your work as part of the full picture.
Yeah, it happened in real-time for me.

the producer Labrinth and Pierpaolo Piccioli sitting on the spanish steps in Rome – shot from behind

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All images courtesy of Valentino.

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