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How Designers and DJs Put Together a Runway Soundtrack

Because fashion week is one of those occasions when an iTunes playlist simply won't do.
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Mia Moretti. Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images

Mia Moretti. Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images

Whether it’s Alexander Wang’s thumping hip-hop jams or a surprise live performance by an on-the-rise indie band, nothing sets the mood of a fashion show quite like the music. Just like the gift bags, the guest list and, most importantly, the collection itself, a designer’s runway soundtrack is meticulously crafted to best convey the season's message. And much like the clothing, small details can continue changing until the moment before the first model comes down the catwalk.

Although each designer's runway tunes run the gamut from '60s rock to buzzy up-and-comers, we can always expect a few familiar faces behind the booth or onstage during Fashion Week. Or, if you're Mia Moretti, it's both. The New York performer not only curates show and party soundtracks for the likes of Prabal Gurung, Timo Weiland and Jeremy Scott, but she performs each season at Alice + Olivia with her band The Dolls (alongside electronic violinist Caitlin Moe). Even though Moretti's experienced in doing the Fashion Week DJ thing, she definitely doesn't wing it. In fact, planning begins several weeks ahead of the show itself.

"I always say there are three stages in a runway mix," she explained. "The original ideas and inspiration from the designer for the collection, which is a pretty literal translation — maybe there's a specific sound that ties to the collection, or a single word or color. Then, there is the creative extension of that, what that inspires me to hear musically." But, despite all this planning and early consulting with the designer, Moretti emphasized that things can (and will) change last minute. "The third and final stage that usually happens the day before the show when the collection has come together and you have the models, the styling, the hair, the makeup, the jewelry," she said. "There's a ton of new ideas that always come to life as a collection is being born, so this is the most important stage. It's embracing this new aesthetic and bridging that with the first original concept without ignoring either."

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Jesse Marco, another Fashion Week regular, agrees. He got his start several years ago deejaying for Tom Ford, and has since gone on to compile show and party music for designers like Calvin Klein and Alexander Wang (he'll be doing an after-party set this season, too). Although he deejays events and parties throughout the year, Marco said that a Fashion Week show is far more detail-oriented than a regular gig. "The music is a reflection of the show's attitude or just the general energy of the designer, rather than a regular gig where I am reading the crowd," he said. "I think you want the music to bring people on a journey while they check out a collection. By adding the right ingredients together, you get something amazing."

According to Marco, some of these key ingredients include high energy, a consistent vibe and mix of old-meets-new. "I look for the beats first off, then maybe it's a vocal break, string elements or samples," Moretti said. "Then, it's sounds that trigger our memory — whether it's love, lust, fear, power, money, freedom, fun, birth, death... whatever the collection is expressing." Conjuring up different emotions or experiences gives editors, buyers and customers a theme to associate with the clothes when they hit stores. The strongest collections usually have a coherent message – whether it's a flashback to the '60s and '70s or a trippy dollhouse vibe — which is ultimately the name of the game.

But hey, a little dancing in your seat (or in front of your computer screen) never hurt anyone, especially when the runway music is this good. Moretti recalled one of her favorite Fashion Week gigs — a Prabal Gurung after-party — fondly, mostly because the designer was so carefree. "We always talk after his show and he tells me these exact words in his beautiful, heartwarming voice: 'Mia, baby, I just want everyone to have the best time and I want everyone to dance!' Music really is a gift, so I'm so lucky when I get to work with someone who appreciates and enjoys that."