When Bruno Mars sang Versace On The Floor, he was not referencing fashion. The song had nothing to do with the renowned design house (at least not in the broader sense of its lyrical content), nor was it an ode to unerring good style.
It was more about seduction. As the lyrics go, “I unzip the back to watch it fall, while I kiss your neck and shoulders” – signalling the act of undressing, rather than what fashion would want us all to do: dress up.
Yet, Mars was inspired by Versace. The singer-songwriter had long shared sort of a friendship with chief creative officer Donatella Versace. They met during the 2012 Met Gala, and apparently became friends.
Donatella has dressed him for countless appearances, including his Super Bowl halftime show in 2014 and his acceptance speech at the 2015 Video Music Awards. And yes, Mars was wearing custom-made Versace for the namesake music video.
It goes to show that fashion and music have always co-existed comfortably together. After their first meeting, Donatella said, “I fell in love with Bruno. He is like an explosion on the stage, so energetic and so totally natural.”
Mars reciprocated the affection by giving a shout out to the designer before performing Versace On The Floor at his show in Milan. “I would like to dedicate this next song to the woman who actually inspired me: Donatella, this is for you,” he said.
After the song became a hit, Donatella even put up a tribute video on Instagram. It showed her lip-syncing and dancing to the tune, alongside models wearing her designs. She captioned the post: “To my special friend.”
Versace On The Floor is not at all the only example of how fashion plays a role in influencing musicians – or vice versa. It also won’t be the last. The relationship has existed for the longest time.
Musicians use fashion to shape how their fans view them. Creating a signature look with their outfits is part of building a memorable persona, and fashion is more than obliged to provide the “tools”.
Just consider Michael Jackson. Known as the “king of pop”, he moonwalked his way into cult status with military-style jackets. He was also known for his love of sequins, fedoras and the single white glove.
Costume designer, Michael Bush, said it was always about the clothes for the pop star. “Most of all, Michael really understood showmanship. He always said, ‘I dance the beat and the clothes have to show the beat’,” Bush revealed, in an interview.
Lady Gaga (pictured in the lead photo), back when she was trying to break into the scene, used fashion as a honed weapon. From the infamous dress made of raw beef worn at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, to other weird and wacky outfits, she drew all eyes.
Freddie Mercury also made history because of his wild looks. Back in the 1970s, he stood out as a man who performed in ballet leotards and catsuits. “It’s not a concert you are seeing; it’s a fashion show,” he once explained.
“If you’re really going to entertain an audience then you have to look the part too,” David Bowie said. His iconic Ziggy Stardust persona, which featured on the cover of his 1973 album, Aladdin Sane speaks volumes.
Madonna appeared on stage to perform Like A Virgin at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards in a punk-inspired prom dress. Also, who can forget the cone bra corset designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier?
“I love Madonna. She is the only woman I have asked to marry me. She refused, of course,” Gaultier was quoted as saying. He also joked that he would have killed the person she asks to make her clothes, if he was not chosen.
Walking To The Tune
On the flipside, fashion designers reference music in their collections. Some go so far as to fully base their creations on a specific genre too. Grunge, punk, hip-hop or rock n roll, you take a pick.
Vivienne Westwood built her career around fighting the norm. And she did it by introducing the world to the punk aesthetic. Her first foray into fashion was a collaboration with Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren for his London shop, opened in 1971.
“I don't think punk fashion is a spectre or overemphasised – it made a big impression, as there had never been anything like it before,” Westwood said in a 2013 interview with Vogue magazine.
“The Sex Pistols enhanced the punk fashion we were making, and then (musician) Adam Ant took on our Pirate collection, which made this look more popular. Yet every one of my collections has been something different – if there had been a band attached to each, they might have been just as influential.”
In 2018, Gucci borrowed notes from Elton John’s Bob Mackie-designed costumes for the Spring collection. It drew from an archive of early 1970s glam rock stage clothes that the singer-songwriter wore.
For Spring 2014, Valentino presented 55 haute couture looks, each one dedicated to a different opera. Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata music score was embroidered on a tulle skirt. Puccini's La Boheme inspired an elegant cashmere cape and silk sheath.
Those are just some of the countless times that fashion has highlighted music in clothes or on runways. Not mentioning of course, the tracks that accompany the models as they strut their stuff.
More recently, French-American musician Sofia Bolt was asked to collaborate with Celine in putting together an Autumn 2020 runway soundtrack. Interesting enough, Bolt has never attended a fashion show before this.
“There was a lot of back and forth. They’re so serious and really know what they want, which is impressive,” she related to The Cut, about the experience of working with creative, artistic and image director of Celine, Hedi Slimane – and team.
“They were super-precise, like, ‘There’s a little guitar sound at 19 minutes and 12 seconds that is a little too loud.’ In moments of frustration, you’re like, ‘Oh my god! It’s 22 minutes! Who cares?’ But when I was sitting there (at the show), I was like, ‘Yeah. It really makes sense that it had to be perfect’.”
Last year even saw the British Fashion Council (BFC) launching a series of short films, created as part of its new campaign “Fashion & Music”. Available on the BFC’s YouTube channel, they pair fashion designers with musicians for a conversation.
Each one discusses the parallels between the two industries. It also aims to give insight into the wider creative community and how fashion is more than just fashion – with music being integral to the magic that happens on runways.
Cover Image: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
Writer | PY Cheong
PY Cheong has plied the trade of words long enough to recognise the difference between writing and storytelling. Believes in always dressing up his prose. Living and breathing the work he does.