A news screen graphic of the world spinning. A beat, then the shudder of electronics. This is how Balenciaga's Spring/Summer 2020 campaign video begins, a four-minute advertisement-art piece created by artist Will Benedict that crescendos with digitally altered news anchors staring into the camera as saxophones wail.
Time called it "terrifyingly stressful." Vogue used the word "apocalyptic." Similar to Balenciaga's overtly political Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear collection, the online fashion community has been quick to unpack what appeared to be a satirical message. "I think it is a funny mirror held up to the modern world, but I do not think of it as a vehicle for exposing the truth or trolling or whatever, just a ridiculous reflection on what is current," Nate Young tells The Zoe Report over email.
The founding member of Wolf Eyes — the band behind the campaign's unnerving soundtrack — Young describes his group's sound as similar to "bricks in the dryer" or "reed instruments if you left it in the microwave for too long." It's an aesthetic that pairs well with creative director Demna Gvasalia's Balenciaga, a house that seems to turn out tongue-in-cheek memes and It-bags in equal measure. (The other current Wolf Eyes member, John Olson, runs a popular Instagram meme page to the tune of 100,000 followers.)
"Most of our music is composed to have room for improvisation but this track was not meant to be a 'jam'; it was meant to deliver that feeling when you can't afford to live without those sunglasses," Young notes.
How designers integrate music into their campaigns and catwalks is evolving, as well, as the line between who sits front row during fashion week and those watching along miles away via a livestream continues to blur. Givenchy brought the musicians onto the runway for its ethereal Spring/Summer 2020 haute couture collection, suspending the artists above models' heads. Dior's Spring/Summer 2020 haute couture show — a sartorial feminist statement anchored by artist Judy Chicago's work — featured the song Ashes To Ashes by Jenny Hval; a catchy beat made brutal by its self-referential lyrics: "She had this dream about a song/She was certain that it was about a burial."
Musician Hayley Williams even performed at Collina Strada's Autumn/Winter 2020 show — which also featured a partnership with headphone brand Skullcandy. "As a personal advocate for environmentalism and counterculture/self-expression, it only made sense to partner with Skullcandy as they are committed to climate change with their work with Protect our Winters and are supporters of an eclectic mix emerging musical artists," explained designer Hillary Taymour in a press email. Williams herself wrote on Instagram following the show, "THIS WAS SUCH A COOL MOMENT TO BE A PART OF and don’t doubt it is one of the most exciting, unique, and inspiring shows at #nyfw this season."
There is success to be had for designers who create digitally conscious content that pushes boundaries, like marketing in sheep's clothing. Balenciaga's Spring/Summer 2020 campaign video has captured more than 200,000 views on YouTube in the week since its debut — double that of its Summer 2019 Campaign uploaded on Feb. 12, 2019.
But how do you create music that will drive clicks and conversation? For Wolf Eyes, it took place at Young's studio in Pontiac, Michigan. "For about a month straight, once or twice a week, John would drive in from Lansing and we'd record horn sounds to represent what the news anchors might sound like if they where hybrid dolphin human alien beings," the musician explains. "I'd then cut up the dolphin tones and sync them to the video. We did so many different sounds for the anchors that it ended up being sort of silly, Will had to ask us stop."
With one more week to go before Fashion Month once again gracefully comes to a close, it's time for those not at Paris Fashion Week to tune in at home with eyes and ears open — since plenty of shows will be streaming across the internet, vying for your attention. Balenciaga's own upcoming PFW show kicks of at 11:30 a.m. on Mar. 1 according to the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode's website. Chances are, you'll want to make sure you're listening.