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Fusing Music and Fashion : An Interview with Sugar Vendil
In honor of fashion week, we got an expert opinion on the art of fusing music and fashion

With Thom Yorke doing custom soundtracks for Rag & Bone, Florence Welch and Janelle Monae appearing on the runways at Chanel and Rebecca Minkoff respectively, and mainstream musicians becoming increasingly bold with their looks, New York Fashion Week is an exciting time for the music and fashion worlds. 

Now that the season is officially upon us, we thought it would be a good time to get an insider’s perspective on all of this from Sugar Vendil, the Artistic Director and pianist for The Nouveau Classical Project (NCP).  Lauded by NPR for "putting a new face on classical music," NCP fuses concert music with fashion through an interdisciplinary concert series and also creates custom soundtracks in a variety of genres for runway shows. 

Why don’t you tell me a little about your work with NCP?

Sure, well as you know NCP is a concert series and performing ensemble that incorporates fashion in all of its events.  We have stylists or designers come in to create pieces inspired by the music so that there’s a connectivity between the two elements.  Then we also do custom music for fashion shows.

What have you been working on recently?

Well we’ve done a number of projects with Launch Collective to develop music for their brands.  Then we’ve worked with Found Objects to do music for Pamela Love, Gretchen Jones, Nike and Langoliers.  We also did music for Tanya Taylor as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s first fashion week showcase last year.  Then with one of our own concerts we used pieces by Gemma Khang for a performance of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire.

So how do these collaborations usually start?  How do you pick what music goes with which clothes? 

We’ll usually talk to the designers and they’ll send us images, YouTube clips and music references and then we’ll work with a composer to come up with something that captures the essence of their collection.  There’s some back and forth and then we come to an agreement and make it happen.  We’ll keep elements of whatever their initial inspiration is but the end product usually ends up with a pretty original sound.

Have there been any other collaboration between the fashion/music worlds that you've found particularly inspiring?

There was this Alexander McQueen show that happened a while ago, I think I posted it on our Facebook page, where they hired a baroque chamber ensemble to play live at the show.  That’s the one that sticks out in my mind.  Viktor and Rolf also did something recently where they had a really cool singer and then this glasses line, Illesteva, did a collaboration with the NYU Symphony Orchestra where they had all of the musicians perform wearing their eyewear.  I also work with this company Notaligne that's run by Jenny Lai.  Jenny was originally a violist and as a result her clothes are always performance inspired.  That’s something that’s pretty interesting to me.

The two art forms definitely seem to be colliding in exciting ways these days.  There’s this cool interdisciplinary, multimedia thing going on.

Yeah it’s good to have conversations between disciplines.  There’s a lot of inspiration there and a lot of idea sharing that can happen. You get all of these minds together to create something really original with a lot of impact.  I think that designers have always been inspired by music though.  I know that Karl Lagerfeld has like 100 iPods.  I mean last time I checked it was 80 but we’re in 2013 now!

I've also been hearing a lot about rock musicians performing at/doing music for runway shows.  

It definitely seems common to have a rock band or a pop singer come in and play the show but it’s usually not anything custom.  It’s their own songs a lot of the time.

That's true. It also seems as though the imagery in mainstream music is increasingly fashion-forward - take Grimes or Lady Gaga for example.

I think Kanye West was actually one of the pioneers of that.  Well, maybe not a pioneer but I mean he put out that 30 min film with…who directed it?  Spike Jonze?  He does the high art stuff.  That video for Runaway in particular was beautiful.  We have this coffee table book of his at home and the shows are just so artistic and creative.  There are a lot of elements incorporated visually by real, serious artists.

I guess when you’re being bombarded by so much stuff constantly via social media it’s important for imagery to be attention-grabbing.

Yeah, maybe it is the Internet.  All of the stimulation.  You need something that will really engulf an audience. I think people can still enjoy a straight concert but I don’t know what it is, things do seem to be more experiential now.

Getting back to the music/fashion thing specifically for a moment, is there anything that you're really looking forward to this Fashion Week?

Definitely Tanya Taylor and Titania Inglis.  There's also a cool Parsons event coming up at Milk.

What about things coming up for you personally or with NCP?

Well we have something coming up in October for a store in Soho called Pas de Calais.  We’re going to be playing for their event.  

For more information on Sugar Vendil and The Nouveau Classical Project, keep an eye on the group's Facebook page and website.