The Sound of Margiela: Frédéric Sanchez Remembers Creating the Soundtracks for Martin Margiela’s First Shows
NOVEMBER 10, 2015 2:40 PM
by STEFF YOTKA
Today, Frédéric Sanchez is among the most respected sound designers in the world, but in 1988, he was a 22-year-old creative living in Paris who found himself at dinner with Martin Margiela on the eve of the Belgian designer’s debut collection. “It was really the beginning of the house. There was not an office; he was working with his partner, Jenny Meirens, in a little apartment in Paris; and he had just left [Jean Paul] Gaultier, where he was an assistant,” Sanchez recalls over the phone from his studio in Paris.
“We met through a friend. This friend said to Martin that he should talk to me because he was looking for someone to make his soundtrack for the show, so he invited me for dinner in his house. It was very interesting because he was living in a very bourgeois area in Paris, but in a courtyard, like in a very small place, where there were so many magazines and images and things like that. I remember that he had a table set with very, very beautiful white napkins and with chandeliers in silver. I thought to ask him what was the concept of what he was doing. The environment that he was putting together—like the table, which was very beautiful with the napkins and the silver chandeliers but with wax on the chandeliers—the idea of something that has lived, not something too polished, was, he explained to me, the idea behind what he was doing . . . and when I heard all this, it made me think about how I had this idea to do something with music and I was living with music. For me, music was almost like fragments of life, and there was something matching in his idea of the image and my idea of the sound.”
From there the pair began to collaborate on the soundtracks for Margiela’s early shows, really more like gatherings than traditional runways. “For the first show [in 1988], which was in a very old theater, we put some microphones backstage, so when people entered the venue, they were listening to what was going on backstage. It was a sort of introduction of what was going to come next. A sort of what is behind all this?” Sanchez explains. “We spent maybe two months working on this soundtrack and thinking of it. It was my first soundtrack and it was his first show, so it was important how we started. There was a lot of talking and we were spending a lot of time together. The process was quite long, and Martin was very involved in the process, but it was the beginning of my way of doing this and of his way of doing this.”
Remembering their early conversations, Sanchez recalls, “[Martin] also told me a lot about Warhol movies, of the way that Warhol treated the image, where he was scratching the image, almost like the cut of the editing was not very well done. Something that had lived. It reminded me of the way I was playing with records, where I liked very much 10 seconds of the song, and so I was repeating those 10 seconds with the needle. That was really how we started making the concept of what we were going to do for the soundtrack for this first show.”
The collaboration went beyond just the musical aspects of the presentations. “I have to say that not so many people know, but when I started working with him, I was doing the soundtrack, but I was also doing the casting, I was working on different things with him. It was only three or four people then, working on the preparation of the show.” Even in the beginning, all the staff would wear white lab coats, and even once, take a bow all together. “Actually, for the first show, at the end of the show, we all came out on the stage—the models, the people that were working in the house, Martin came on the stage. It was the first time that people saw him—and the only [time]—and I think there was a moment, I remember everybody was very moved, because there was so much energy in these things.”
Sanchez continued to collaborate with Margiela into the ’90s and again when the designer took the reins at Hermès in 1997. His personal highlight, he says, was Margiela’s Spring 1992 show staged in an abandoned metro station in Paris, where models sauntered down staircases lined with melting candles. For the soundtrack, Sanchez cut together snippets of people cheering and screaming from some 40-odd live recordings, creating a 12-minute collage of aahs! and woos! The clothes that season included midi-length skirts in plaids and florals whose prints were painted onto the forearms of models, the effect like that of a garment bleeding over onto flesh, blurring the line between the real and the surreal. “I like this soundtrack very much because it’s a composition with things that really exist,” Sanchez says.