Music has an ever-important place at Fashion Week, with "It" girl singers like Taylor Swift and Lorde occupying front rows and carefully-constructed soundtracks setting the mood for runway shows. As the lines between the music and fashion industries become increasingly blurred, designers aren't satisfied with a simple playlist, so many of them have taken it a step further with live performances, effectively turning their presentations into full-on concerts. Occasionally, a clothing label will tap a headliner — St. Vincent performed at Diane Von Furstenberg last year, and Thom Yorke did a live set at Rag & Bone a few years before that — but more often, they’ll team up with under-the-radar indie faves. (For instance, singer Abir Haronni made waves when she performed a medley of '90s tunes live at the Baja East show this past NYFW.)
It's an undeniable truth that fashion people love being the first to discover something, whether it’s a shoe trend, a fledgling supermodel, or a freshly-signed band. Here are some of the best live soundtracks from just-about-to-pop acts of Fashion Weeks past — including a few that made waves during the fall 2015 season.
Theophilus London at Rebecca Minkoff, NYFW F/W 2012
For nearly six seasons now, Rebecca Minkoff has hand-selected stellar performers, turning her runway shows into Webster Hall-worthy gigs. Janelle Monae, Wild Cub and Little Daylight are just a few of the artists who have taken the makeshift stage; but the first, back in 2012, is still the best to date: Theophilus London, who more recently collaborated with none other than Karl Lagerfeld, rapped up and down the runway, singing his hit “I Stand Alone” while models tried — and endearingly failed — to resist the urge to dance.
Cable at Timo Weiland, NYFW F/W 2013
Cable is the kind of indie rock outfit made for the fashion industry. Tracy Antonopoulos and Benjamin Morsberger met while working with indie photog Ryan McGinley, and when they’re not making music, they’re heavily entrenched in the art world. The designers behind Timo met the band through friends (because, of course), and it was a no-brainer move. It also doesn’t hurt that the blonde bombshell lead singer looks like she could be strutting down the runway, herself, and was, in fact, decked out in Timo’s fall collection while performing, since she just so happened to be the same size as the fit model.
Say Lou Lou, Yelle & Citizens! live at Maison Kitsuné, Pitti W Fall/Winter 2013
Maison Kitsuné isn’t just a fashion brand; it’s also a record label. So for its first-ever fashion show, the designers enlisted the help of not one, but three music acts. Like all the albums Kitsuné puts out, it was an eclectic and brilliantly curated lineup. French pop duo Yelle, Swedish sisters Say Lou Lou and Brit indie rockers Citizens! each took the stage to perform a track while impeccably outfitted in the very same quirky-prep threads the designers sent down the runway.
Chromatics at Chanel, PFW S/S 13
With a frontman like Johnny Jewel, an esteemed multi-instrumentalist whose name is as stylish as his wardrobe, it’s no surprise that Karl Lagerfeld was charmed by Chromatics. The Pitchfork-approved synth-poppers — who hail from Portland, Oregon, despite giving off as many Euro-chic vibes as the Kaiser himself — played a 13-minute set perched atop the runway at Grand Palais, while Karl presumably had a private dance party backstage. Can you blame him?
Twin Shadow at Public School, NYFW S/S 2015
George Lewis Jr., who sings synth-heavy new-wave R&B, became an unlikely muse for cool-kid brand Public School back in 2010. After striking up a friendship with designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, he was tapped to record a 10-minute original score for last season’s show. It’s really a wonder the models were able to refrain from dancing down the runway; showgoers, typically pros at keeping poker faces during fashion shows, couldn’t sit still.
James Bay at Burberry, S/S 2015
If there’s anything Christopher Bailey loves as much as clothes, it’s music. The luxury label’s chief creative officer appears to take as much pride in his runway shows’ musical selections as the designs themselves. Each season, he handpicks a new up-and-comer to set the scene, and he’s hosted an impressive roster: Tom Odell, Paloma Faith, Clare Maguire. He nabbed James Bay just before the well-tressed singer-songwriter hit it big, and his rendition of “When We Were on Fire” was the perfect backdrop for Burberry’s moody collection — assuming anyone could take their eyes off Bay.
Arca at Hood By Air, Pitti Uomo F/W 2015
Shayne Oliver and co. tapped Arca, the go-to producer for everyone from Kanye to FKA Twigs, to compose the soundtrack for Hood by Air's Florence debut. The street label sent a trippy twist on menswear down the runway, which was matched in glorious weirdness by the 11-track synth-heavy set that sampled both Björk and bleating sheep. Like the brand, it was innovative, unexpected and totally bonkers.
Blood Orange at Eckhaus Latta, NYFW F/W 2015
Dev Hynes has always been something of a fashion darling, given his frequent collabs with front-row mainstays like Solange Knowles and Sky Ferreira. But his latest gig landed him directly on the catwalk. He hasn’t crossed over to supermodel status (yet, anyway; if designers keep looking to him as a muse, who knows?). Rather, Hynes composed and performed the music at Eckhaus Latta’s show, tapping four other singers — including his girlfriend, Friends frontwoman Samantha Urbani — to back him up on vocals. They were spread throughout the crowd, "Love Actually"-style, taking the event beyond just a fashion show, and into performance art territory.