This week's feature interview is Michel Gaubert. Fashion's leading sound designer and mood curator in chief of over 30 years, Gaubert is as recognized for his mix-tape compilations for Parisian concept store Colette as he is for the nuanced soundtracks he designs for an extensive runway clientele. Gaubert began his career in '70's Paris, working at an independent record store called Champs Disques that was frequented by Lagerfeld, and leading the downstairs scene of The Palace in the '70s and '80s.
Julia von Boehm: If you talk to the designer at what point in the conversation do you start thinking about the music for the show? Basically at what moment? I know with Chanel, you come in much earlier in the process. How do you come up with the ideas for the music, is it once you see the clothes?
Michel Gaubert: Oh, well, listen, it’s a bit more tricky than this because, I don’t necessarily see the clothes anyway. So sometimes I don’t see the clothes, I just know about the clothes. I know what kind of mood they’re in and I know a bunch of things, but it’s not necessarily, you know, the clothes. So when it’s people I work with, with whom I have a strong relationship, I know what they like. I know their music range, the kind of places we can go, even if it’s more extreme for them than usual, it doesn’t take me that long, maybe about half an hour or two to figure out where I should start. Because then, it could change the day before or even the day of sometimes, for a whole bunch of reasons, but I kind of know where I put my feet. You know, how do you say that? When I put my feet. Anyway, a lot of people know music so they can give me references. It could be, I like this, I don’t want to use this, but it’s that kind of a mood, even if it seems very abstract. I mean I guess I have this thing about translating what they like, so that’s how it goes.
JVB: And do you think of where you want to transport the audience when you think about the music, do you think about
what’s going to create this kind of emotion or that kind of emotion?
MG: Yeah. Sure, sure. To me it’s important that when you go see a fashion show, any kind of show, it could be like even a play or concert, whatever, at one point, where music is involved the music has to carry you somewhere, you know? So I know that for example during your shows, I know where the emotion would be, it doesn’t only depend on the clothes. It also depends on the story of the person you’re working with, the time of the year, that time of the day, what’s going on, what’s going on in the world. Like now it’s COVID. So in projects, I’m not saying we’re doing COVID music, but it’s probably reflecting a bit of the time that we’re going through, you know, so maybe it’s very hard to say you want real or you want to escape, you know, but then if you escape too much, people are going to think it’s out of touch, you know? And if you’re too real people are going to say it’s too drab. So you have to interpret all these kind of things.
JVB: You have to find a fine line.
JVB: That’s the same for designers and for me, for stylists, the themes of what you shoot have changed and shifted.
MG: Of course, of course, of course, of course. Also the weird thing, I mean, for fashion is that basically in Winter 2020, the clothes are in the stores, they’re still on the shelves. And I have a few that were given to me, but I don’t know when I’m going to wear them, you know? So next year I’m going to have clothes I didn’t wear and would I need to buy more clothes? It’s a very tricky moment. So when designers have to come up with [a solution], it’s going to be
JVB: Oh yeah. Very complicated because how do we get people into a store or when also you don’t feel like buying
things you know what I mean?
MG: I know. I mean, I did buy a few things, but things to stay at home, you know. I bought a couple of pairs of shorts and a nice,
comfortable sweater and things like this.
JVB: It also feels out of place to be showy and shiny you know what I mean? Like too humbled by the situation to actually go all out.
MG: Even when I go out, I dress more or less the same way I dress when I stay home. I wear my Birkenstocks and a pair of
jeans and the same sweater. I don’t dress up, I don’t feel like it. It’s not the moment.
JVB: No, I totally get it. How did you start working at Palace and how did that contribute to what you’re doing now?
MG: Well that’s a very long story. I landed at The Palace because a friend of mine was working there. They had before, at the beginning of The Palace, they were playing the same music upstairs and downstairs. And at one point they thought that the music downstairs should be a bit more chill, which should be different. They asked me if I could play music down there and I did. I was the alternative downstairs in The Palace, was the alternative sounds, like the music was more alternative and upstairs was less like, as we said, very, um—
MG: Yeah, commercial. So I was more blessed in those days, people were more adventurous with music and so I started to do a little there. And then of course, there was lots of fashion people working there so I worked on a fashion show and then I worked on another one and then another one, and I was working in the record store at the same time. People were coming to that store to buy music for their shows. I mean, it all came together at that point, you know?
JVB: When did you meet Karl and how?
MG: Karl, I knew him socially, in the ’70s before The Palace, I mean, he knew who I was. I knew who he was, but we never really talked, and then I started to work with him in 1989. September, because Jacques de Bascher was making the music for Karl and Jacques passed away before the summer of eighty nine, if I remember well, and there was some other people doing the music for Karl that didn’t really work. So they asked me to be on board and I was like— of course I was petrified, but—
JVB: But how amazing, I mean this long relationship, no?
MG: Oh my god, yes, it’s crazy. When I think about it, it’s just absolutely crazy. Crazy, crazy. Yeah. I mean at one point I was doing the four shows he was working on, I was doing Chanel, Fendi, Chloe and Lagerfeld. It was like, I don’t know— just insane. There was one day, sometimes in the week I would have four meetings with him within the same day. So we’d go from one place to the other and I was doing the same thing he was doing, putting myself in the place of another fashion house, it was the same person for me. It was difficult. It was a bit challenging at some times, but we had some great moments together. I can I still think about it, you know, I’m not a past person. I mean, I love the past because the past is a bit like the thought of what’s happening now. We all look at what the past brings to now, but I mean, I really miss him and all the crazy things we did. But no, I think that he left right on time, because I think Karl Lagerfeld—
JVB: Can you imagine him this situation?
MG: Yeah. It’s like his passing signifies the end of an era, and basically it’s even bigger than what we thought. I thought that when he passed, the fashion would be different. The rules, the games, like everything would be very different, but I had no idea what was going to be that different because now it’s like a mega game changer and he left right before it, so it’s quite— there’s something very significant there. Yeah. So I often think about him.
JVB: I do because my Dad made a movie with him. I was shooting a couple of times with him. We had crazy trips too, like Rome together where we shopped only at night because of the August heat, and at midnight we had to go out and shoot. And then in the morning, then we came back home and rested. I was always so amazed about his energy. I mean, I am amazed.
MG: I know it was crazy. His energy and his desire to do things, because that gave him — even very late in his life— he was
still hungry to do the thing, he was insatiable. I learned so much from him, but not only of work things and also like things about
life, you know, culture, I mean a lot of things. I really knew him a lot.
JVB: He was extremely funny in the same time. The jokes in German. I mean, they were amazing, so razor sharp.
MG: Well, he was razor-sharp in French too. Very quick.
JVB: I always felt a little bit like an idiot next to him. You know what I mean?
MG: Yeah, of course. Of course.
JVB: It’s not that like I was starstruck, it was really just who he was more than who I knew he was because I’m not a star person. Like I don’t try to see that. I try to see the real person, but he was intimidating in that sense that he was so fast.
MG: I’m the same as you. You know, I don’t get impressed because someone’s like a star or something like that. At least maybe it doesn’t happen to me anymore.
JVB: That’s a very good thing, actually, I believe because they’re like us as well, and like you, you’re a real person, you know?
MG: Exactly. So it was like very, you know, very, very open and a very honest relationship. We talked quite openly and freely, you
know, he would tease me. I would tease him. It was fun.
JVB: So what is more you, your voice in music or your commentary on social media?
MG: It’s a hard one because I have the commentary on social media. I mean, some of it is really me the way I say things, but some
of it I’m being a bit of a whore, you know? So I just do stuff on purpose to see, because I like to play with it. It is honest, but sometimes when I post something, I’m like, oh my God, I’m sure if I post this and that people are going to like it a lot, you know? So that’s the way I’m saying I’m a whore I know, and I like to play that game because it’s fine if people follow and I don’t have much of a strategy, but I did so much with Trump the past weekend that now I’m not doing anything anymore. I don’t want to be overdoing it. I don’t want to be insistent. I had some hate mails too. But I don’t care.
JVB: You don’t read those.
MG: No, no, but I mean, I had some comments and some pictures, I don’t really care, but there’s no need to bring more.
JVB: no, but it’s good that you like naming it because I think that’s the best way to deal with social media.
MG: Yeah, of course, of course, of course. It’s like a game, so it’s not me, my face, but it’s a time, et cetera. So it’s
just one thing. And my work, to me it matters a lot because it’s my life basically, more than social media. Social media is just an extension of thing maybe I couldn’t say to people when I see them, or it’s a different side of me. Like sometimes we don’t have time during meetings and things, you know? So my work is me and my work is more important. I like my voice, my voice in fashion basically, because I consider myself as much as a fashion person as a music person.
Diandra Barsalou: Maybe we get to be different parts of ourselves on every medium? Everything we touch, as a creative, you put a different piece of yourself into different platforms.
MG: Yeah, which is what I do, you know.
JVB: It’s a miracle I mean, it’s wonderful. The job that we have, the jobs we have are fantastic, because we can explore the creative sides of everything. I’m very lucky.
MG: My job, your job, they’re not jobs you go to school for. I mean, you don’t study to do those, you know, it’s something that comes to you at one point. And it’s, my God, maybe I shouldn’t do this. It’s not something that you don’t have a diploma for.
JVB: It almost happens to you.
MG: So I was blessed in a way, that I could do this.
JVB: Same because I could not imagine going to an office every day and do the same thing. I would die.
MG: It’s impossible. Plus, I don’t live that way, I go to bed too late, wake up too late. But mind you during fashion weeks, you’re in it, it lasts, like the whole city is up. I’m going to bed earlier and getting up earlier to starting the day, at 9:00, 9:30, I quite like it. Because I have a different pattern and it’s quite nice.
JVB: It’s also quite needed, I find, during these times, to have a more rigorous, schedule with your time
somehow in a weird way. And then sometimes I just lie in bed and I’m like, what, why, I have nothing to do, so why bother, you know?
MG: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, now I spend a lot of time doing other things, but I still listen to a lot of music though.
JVB: That’s even more important, I think. Music during COVID is basically something to hold on to, you know?
MG: Yes, totally. It’s hard to work though, these days, because there’s less things to do and I don’t know, I’m finding myself to be slower and all this kind of stuff.
JVB: Everything is slower. Everything is slower around us. It’s a very weird thing that’s happening to us. Slower, but maybe that’s a good thing too, because I mean, to be honest, I was on a plane— and you too— four times a month, going all around the world and I was like a hamster in a wheel, like going round and around and so sometimes you basically don’t think because everything is going so fast. Now, all this time to think, it’s almost scary. It’s almost like, [gasp] you know?
MG: But it’s even in your own city. Sometimes I don’t see my city because when it’s such a rush, I go into the car and we
go to one place or the other. Now though, as soon as I got Paris, oh, it’s so beautiful. I’m looking at it. Oh my God, I forgot about this and that, and I’m enjoying it. Because when I go see my mom, she lives outside of Paris. It’s also very pretty. And I’m like, Oh my God, it’s so nice. You know? And I’m happy to go.
JVB: Nature became like so important, I find. It really gives me sanity in this crazy world somehow. And that’s why I came out here [to the Hamptons]. I just thought it’s not the moment of the city right now anyway.
MG: How many kids do you have?
JVB: Oh, I have two, they’re 10 and eight and they are the happiest little people out here. They go to a fantastic school. And I think in the end also our values have changed. Now it’s about the kids, you know? Before it was a bit more about myself too.
MG: They’re not losing.
JVB: If there’s one thing we can learn from introspective reflection during this time, what would you recommend?
MG: You can learn to not control your emotions because it’s not good. I think you have to do that, you know? Because otherwise you can get into a very dark side and so it’s quite interesting to realize that you want to be alive, you know what I mean? You want to do something, you want to be there and you don’t want to give up because I think in the end, that’s going to be a rumble. You know, when this is all over.
JVB: That’s a good idea. That’s what I felt in New York.
MG: Well, it should be, that should be a rumble, you know? So it’s like also good that you get more time for yourself. So that’s also a big win, a big plus because a lot of us have spent too much time on your job or doing things, and you neglect relationships or you neglect yourself, or you neglect a lot of things. Now you’re taking care of business, but like, your own business, you know, not your work. So I find it quite interesting that things are not going to be the way they used to be. So you have to learn to deal with your past life. I mean, like the crazy travelings we went through, I don’t think that’s going to happen for a long time.
JVB: And I don’t want it to happen, too.
MG: No, me neither, because I was thinking one year, in one week I went from Paris to Seoul from Seoul to Los Angeles, from Los Angeles to Palm Springs to Paris, and from Paris to Nice all that in eight days. And I said, wow. I mean, of course it’s like—
JVB: Amazing, like a drug. I get hooked on it.
MG: Yeah. But I mean, I was fascinated by the fact I could do it because technically it was just like, okay. I can do all of this, but then now it’s like, I don’t think I want to, I don’t want to do that again. What’s the point? It’s like I was working and I was following my work, but I think people don’t want that anymore. We don’t want this insane traveling.
JVB: I don’t know, maybe again, in like 10 years or something, we will get back to the same speed but I think it will take a while.
MG: Maybe but it’s going to be different still. I think it’s going to have an imprint, you know, to drive the future. And so you have to think that way and you also have to understand that things you were doing before are never going to come back and you end it where they were. So you have to be ready to approach things in a different way. I’m not saying a new way because I mean, who knows the new way, but you have to watch things differently. Find an alternative to things you used to do to get the same satisfaction. That’s the way I see it.
JVB: And because we’re all in the same pot everybody’s going through those thoughts. It’s not just one person,
it’s the whole world.
MG: The whole world, the whole world, you know, so far I consider myself lucky I’m not suffering but it’s also very scary to know that a lot of people are not going to make it. So I think maybe we have to be aware of that. We’ll have to help people, when all of this is over, because you cannot leave people dying of hunger or being miserable. I don’t believe those days are back, I mean, those days are still relevant. So that should be also a thing of the past.
JVB: We know that there’s a rainbow at the end of it.
MG: Yeah, yeah, yeah but we’ll have to share that rainbow. That’s also something we have to do. We have to share the rainbow.
DBM: This time is such an indicator of how much we need to take care of each other. A return to community.
MG: Yeah. Exactly.
JVB: Makes everybody kinder, I feel.