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What Fashion Week is Like for a DJ

Professional multi-hyphenate Leslie Kirchhoff gives us the lowdown on how she curates the perfect runway soundtrack and survives four-hour gigs in four-inch heels, to boot.

We don't see the fashion-DJ role going away anytime soon. In 2011, Dhani featured 10 of the field's newest recruitsHarley Viera-NewtonChelsea Leyland, Tennessee Thomas — who, at that time, served as the first models of this new, exciting category of "It" girl. And in 2016, it's safe to say the fashion and music spheres are just as entranced by these stylish, super-cool women as they were five years ago, especially when Fashion Week rolls around.

Ahead of a week of show-going and party-hopping, we felt it necessary to catch up with one such DJ, Leslie Kirchhoff, who also counts photography and filmmaking among her professional talents. The Wisconsin native has become a mainstay in the community, thanks to her enviable beats and sartorial eye, both of which have landed her gigs in far-flung locales like Cannes and Tokyo, as well as editorials in Teen Vogue and GQ. I spoke to Kirchhoff just before New York Fashion Week about how she curates the music for a runway show, why she prefers sky-high heels during a four-hour set and if she has any advice for aspiring cool-girl DJs.

Let's talk about what your schedule is generally like in the weeks leading up to New York Fashion Week.

Literally every day is different. Some months I'll go a couple of weeks without a gig, and for some it's pretty frequent — but you always know there's going to be a much higher concentration [of gigs] during NYFW. It all happens really last-minute, so you have to keep your schedule clear; even one of your biggest gigs could be something you've booked maybe two or three days in advance. You never know what's going to happen, and you just have to be ready for it to be really hectic.

During NYFW, how many events, shows or parties do you normally cover?

It depends on what I'm doing. If I'm doing the music for a show, that usually takes a lot longer and has more outside prep work, so I won't take on as many parties. It's hard to put a number to it, but sometimes I'll do five or more events during the week.

Walk me through the process of curating the music for a runway show.

First, you have to talk with the designer to see what their mood for the collection is. It's interesting going into it because some [designers] really have an idea of the music they want, and others are looking for you to bring suggestions and different options to them. I'll talk with them and see what vibe they want, then throw out a couple of ideas to make sure I'm going in the right direction. I'll show them [the soundtrack] a week before. If they want any tweaks, I'll show it to them again a couple of days later. 

Once, [the designer] had an exact idea of the songs he wanted, so my whole job was to put it together and mix the songs so that the climax was at the right part or it was keeping people's excitement going throughout the runway show without letting the songs go on too long — and keeping with the songs he wanted.

How does the flow of DJing a show differ  if at all  from DJing a party?

For parties, I feel like people generally know what my vibe is. Unless [the client] wants something specific, they'll let your own style come through. 

Much has been made in recent years about DJ style, both on-and off-duty. How do you get dressed for NYFW?

Since the parties are usually for a certain designer, they'll dress me. In some cases, I'll go in for a fitting beforehand and choose something; other times, it's the day of and they're sending me an option or two; and sometimes, I'll show up and change quickly before I go on. Designers obviously love to have [DJs] wear their stuff. That's why I think the girl-DJ trend is so big, too, because you're kind of a living, breathing example of what your clothes can do when you're out on display DJing a party. 

But for parties where it's not [hosted by] one specific designer where they're not dressing me, I try to support designer friends of mine and pull a dress to wear from them. I love pulling from Timo Weiland and Jonathan Simkhai, or I'll just pull from a couple of different PR companies to find something cool and new. It's a big game of dress-up — they're things I wouldn't wear in real life, but when you're DJing, you're allowed to be fancy for the evening.

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What do you do about footwear when you're on your feet all night?

Actually, it's surprising! Everyone thinks it would be super-hard to wear heels all night, especially if it's something like a four-hour gig, but if you're not moving and you're not walking, that's the time I can wear the highest and most uncomfortable heels because you don't actually have to move around in them. I like to bust out the tall ones.

How do your NYFW gigs differ from the events you normally do outside of Fashion Month?

The vibe is definitely different; the notable fashion people crawl out of the woodwork for NYFW. It's much more pressure — if you do well at an event, there's a lot of people watching you so it may lead to a lot more things, whereas normally, it's not as curated a crowd. It's just your time to shine and show what you've got.

What are your goals for any given show season?

It all depends. I do like to take it easy, especially during the February shows because it's so snowy; sometimes, I'd rather be at home watching a movie. September is a little different because it's so nice out that you're down to do as much as you can.

Do you do any photography or film work during NYFW? 

I used to shoot a lot of backstage, but I don't anymore — that's a really stressful life. Photography usually slows down during NYFW since magazines aren't doing shoots and everyone is so busy. 

What's your main piece of advice for newer DJs looking to do what you do?

Be sure you are extremely passionate about music and have a broad enough knowledge of it before beginning. Too many people jump into DJing without a true love for music. Knowing theory is also a bonus, of course.

What are three songs we can expect to hear this season?

"Drinkee (Original Mix)" by Sofi Tukker, "Let it Happen (Soulwax Remix)" by Tame Impala and "1998 (Sonny Alven Remix)" by Chet Faker.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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