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Is there still music in fashion?

By Guest Contributor


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Fashion |Opinion

G-Star Burna Boy in-store headshot Credits: Melvin van Tholl

Fashion and music have been inextricably linked for centuries. A duet with many mutual benefits. While a music festival is graced with beautifully sparkling outfits, those same outfits are in the spotlight of musical beats. These days, however, you hear less and less music in fashion stores. Such a development is a shame, because music is a great boost to a shop's customer experience. It is also a top traffic booster, especially in combination with a 'swinging' target group approach.

The historical connection: From opera houses to TikTok streams

The beginning of the romance between music and fashion is not officially recorded in a historical book, but roughly dates back to the time when the upper social classes were entertained in the mid-17th century in the emerging opera houses and concert halls. Or during sumptuous soirees and masquerades in their private salons. Even then, musical performances took centre stage with decked-out performers and listeners gouging each other's eyes out. Marie Antoinette's arrival at the 18th-century French Court, in particular, became a true catalyst of a new socialite movement in which music, costumes and ostentation prevailed. She brought this with her from her native Vienna, where costume parties with concert music were a famous tradition. The new movement caused a stir in the corridors of elite retreats, both in and far beyond Paris.

The private salons of the same houses also hosted musical costume presentations by house couturiers, who later opened their own shops with a salon and chamber music as well. This was the prelude to salon shows that grew into true fashion events in the mid-20th century, such as in the Chanel and Dior boutiques. In the 1970s and 1980s, the current fashion industry took off firmly thanks to mass media - especially the rise of TV and pop culture. Then we got the 'mega-tents' of international fashion weeks with gigantic catwalks and runways. All covered with pounding speakers full of fashion beats. Often served by dedicated fashion DJs, who musically produce the grand shows in such a way that the designers' story of their collection comes to life. As the top fashion DJ Michel Gaubert (at Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Fendi, among others) put it himself in an interview with FD Personal: "I have to musically visualise the show and in such a way that I manage to capture the mood as if you were in a movie."

Nowadays, the presentation stage of fashion and music has moved to the digital. Especially on Instagram and TikTok, the reach of the digital stage is even greater than on the physical catwalks and runways. Now, fashion sounds with 'swinging' outfits can be heard on our smartphones literally in every corner of the world. Because when you upload a video showing off your outfit, you automatically search for a matching song. After all, it has become our second nature: where there is fashion, there is music. And that combo has an ever-growing audience: from dozens in the private salons of yesteryear, to hundreds along the catwalks, to millions via TV and now billions via small screens. A clattering cacophony in the digital spectrum!

How is the music in the fashion shop?

Yet step into any fashion shop now, and it falls still. Both musically and also - more often - in the number of movement across the shop floor. What is going on here? For a start, it depends on the type of fashion shop. In the small boutiques, it sounds quieter more often than in the branches of the bigger chains. But across the board, it is quieter and quieter compared to say 20 years ago, while consumer population grows enormously - both physically through population growth and digitally through the internet. In practice, fashion entrepreneurs and businesses quickly run into some weighty concerns.

The first is the financial picture. Installing and using a music system comes with a high price tag, partly due to music rights. TikTok knows this by now too, as they are currently in a tough battle with Universal Music Group over increased fees on the music used for its platform. For the fashion entrepreneur, meanwhile, the high(er) costs put extra pressure on margins, which are already increasingly under heavy pressure. In addition, there are the practical objections, such as which music to play, who is -technically- responsible for it, or simply not liking the mutual whining on the shop floor about the playlist or the customer complaining about the music being 'too loud'.

Should you still - want to - invest in music, there are golden opportunities. In doing so, it is important to know who you are playing music for, and you therefore need to study your target audience well. There are already many studies that show that music in the business has a positive effect on your visitors, provided it is correctly tailored to your target group. For instance, a study by Sena and Buma/Stemra (both representing the interests of music artists) shows that more than half of all visitors find music in the shop important enough to stay there longer. Especially among young people - under 35 - this is an important requirement, as visitors to shops in the popular youth segment mainly stick to Top 40 hits, dance and pop music. The 35-plus visitors of luxury men's shops, on the other hand, mainly appreciate lounge music, and the over-55s prefer to hear light classical or no music at all. If the music does not suit their taste or brand profile, or is too loud, they will likely take a break.

From background music to a 'swinging' shopping experience

To make a store experience really 'swinging', so that legs run smoothly through the shop, particularly towards the fitting rooms and checkout, you need to do more than just play a record. It is important to actively create an experience in which the music takes centre stage alongside your fashion offering. I also call this the 'swinging' target group approach, which can vary from a temporary campaign to a permanent performance.

  • One option is to bring in an artist and rig a campaign around them, as jeans brand G-star Raw recently did with Nigerian music artist Burna Boy. In a slick commercial clip, he unleashes his Afrobeats over the urban scene, with the goal of activating a younger and multicultural target group, in particular. The clip features delightful rousing dance moves that draw you to the shop. When I visited one of their stores, I indeed heard Burna Boy's songs. Visually too, I was reminded of this collaboration. Although I have no insight into the follow-up of this campaign, I can imagine that the shopping experience could be made extra 'swinging' with live dance-challenges - inspired by the related music video - possibly creating extra excitement among the target audience on TikTok and Instagram.
G-Star storefront with Burna Boy campaign. Credits: Melvin van Tholl
  • You could also consider physically bringing the artists into your store. I recently saw such an occasion happen in Bangkok at the store of Gentle Monster, a hip Korean eyewear brand. As hundreds of fans pressed up against the shop windows to catch a glimpse of their idols, members of the famous K-pop boy band Got7 appeared. If you can't get those music stars to come in every day, you could put up a K-Pop-Up installation with all kinds of fashion accessories associated with the band around it. This idea could be seen at Bangkok's Siam Paragon Mall, where fans of boyband Seventeen could be "photographed" next to their idols - seen on a canvas - creating a viral impact on social media. That in turn attracted crowds to the mall, and the fashion accessories were bought gratefully as souvenirs.
K-Pop boyband Got7 in Gentle Monster Bangkok. Credits: Melvin van Tholl
K-Pop event space in Bangkok. Credits: Melvin van Tholl
  • Even if your budget is not enough to bring in big artists, you can opt for a creative shop concept, in which you create an authentic link between fashion and music. This could be seen in a vintage boutique in the Parisian district of Le Marais. In a dimly lit room with creaking wooden floors, old chansons sounded on a gramophone as if you had stepped into a time machine. Needless to say, the mood was set. A group of American tourists were among those the concept had worked on, with the credit card machine working overtime on their purchases.

Adding musical experiences to your fashion store can be a huge incentive. Sort of like 'Swiftonomics' - the boosting impact music star Taylor Swift's performances have on a local or national economy - but on a micro-scale. Whether it's a collaboration with budding DJs or a dressed-to-dance challenge via TikTok, having a 'swinging' music experience in your business is guaranteed to put music into fashion!

This is a contribution by Melvin van Tholl, customer experience architect, of BLOODY BELIEVERS. The creative-strategic agency that helps brands and companies develop ground-breaking solutions in their customer experience. He does this for companies both in the Netherlands and abroad. In this series, he takes you into the wonderful world of the consumer, with lessons to make your company future-proof from the customer experience as well.

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.

Gentle Monster