Sound Illustrator Frédéric Sanchez Readies for NYFW
by Katya Foreman Published: September 2, 2013
Among those packing their bags for New York Fashion Week, which kicks off on September 5, is king of the catwalk soundtracks, Frédéric Sanchez. The charismatic French sound illustrator, whose first gig was providing the music for the debut show of avant-garde Belgian designer Martin Margiela in 1988, will be providing the tunes for around 25 major shows this season, including Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Prada, Jil Sander, Marni, Mary Katrantzou, Bouchra Jarrar and Damir Doma. Never box him in the DJ camp, however. Likening himself to an artist working with paint, Sanchez sees sound as a medium for creating mental images, just like the sound illustrators on the radio in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sanchez, whose first sound installation, “Contrepoint,” was presented at the Musée du Louvre in 2004, credits a number of figures from the art world with having pushed him to pursue his own artistic projects outside of the fashion arena. They include Marie-Claude Beaud, director of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, and the late artist Louise Bourgeois. “I work with different mediums and modular synthesizers to transform electric currents into sound. It’s a continuation of the work of people who inspired me as a kid, like [Karlheinz] Stockhausen,” says Sanchez, who creates his own videos and photos to accompany the works, which are presented on his website.
Among other inspirations, he likes to go to see opera singers in concert. “I’m not so into big stage productions anymore, nowadays I prefer to see opera singers perform with an orchestra, dressed all formally in a tuxedo. That way each person in the audience can let their imagination wander.” He also keeps a beady eye on all of the latest contemporary music releases, however, sourcing tracks from eBay and Amazon, which he stores on hard drives. His favorite Paris store for vinyl is Souffle Continu, in the city’s 11th arrondissement.
As the sound illustrator for some of the world’s biggest egos, Sanchez retains a healthy sense of humour, having survived some hairy moments, such as the time a power outage struck at a Givenchy men’s show a few seasons ago. “I pushed the button, and suddenly everything stopped”, he laughs. One of the most challenging aspects of his work, as for anyone else working in the fashion industry, is the accelerated pace and condensed nature of show seasons. Over time, he has had to adapt his art. “We try to be as efficient as possible and give a direct emotion, but one that stimulates the imagination at the same time,” says Sanchez, who has also designed soundtracks for a number of luxury brands’ venues, including Hermès’ Café Madong in Korea, the Hôtel Costes in Paris and the Prada Luna Rossa pop store currently operating in San Francisco.
With the shows days away, he has only just started working on this season’s compositions, though not through choice. Sound is one of the last components of a show, and it is Sanchez’s job to grasp the kind of mood and impact a designer wants to create in a heartbeat. When pushed for pointers, even Sanchez, at this late stage, doesn’t yet know what kind of sonic mood will dominate the runways this season. “What is particular to fashion is its last minute nature, it’s a constant work-in-progress compared to other arts like the theater or cinema where you can work on projects long in advance, experiment — do rehearsals. It’s stressful,” he says. “In fashion there’s always this feeling of being on a high wire without a net. Either everything goes to plan, or it doesn’t.”