Exploring the Nexus Between Fashion and Music

Lauren Kessler speaking at Co.Lab: Merch
Lauren Kessler speaking at Co.Lab: Merch

Lauren Kessler, creative director and designer for artists like the Chainsmokers and Trippie Redd, on finding balance as the worlds of fashion and artist merchandise collide.

The worlds of fashion and artist merchandise are quickly colliding. It’s no longer wanting what you see on the runway, but what you see on the backs of your favorite musicians and artists. Lauren Kessler, creative director and designer for artists like the Chainsmokers and Trippie Redd, has been exploring that nexus her entire career and has had a front row seat to that fusion. We talked to her about cultivating vibes, connecting with fans, and whether an app can be a piece of merch.

Spotify for Artists: How do you see fashion and music being related? Are there things you pull from those realms when you work on a new project?

Lauren Kessler: I think they definitely inspire one another, culture always plays a big role in the inspiration for both. I also work with fashion brands, so when I'm designing for them or music merch, the first thing that I do is to get to know who the customer is and research the fanbase. What I'm designing is what we want them to buy and the designs really need to speak to them. So, I think my goal for both would be to always create something that is timeless, but I also want it to push the boundaries and I want to get an emotional response from something—make people excited about it. You also don't want to create something that's too trendy where someone will buy it, and then next week they get sick of it because there's new merch that's out, so you want to always find that balance. I also like to think ahead. I always want to be thinking, "If I design this, then how does it play into what the next song is, and what we do next for the next season?" I think they definitely play off of each other.

What does it take to make the best possible piece of merch?

You want to look at something and be able to tell: "That it's, you know, The Chainsmokers," without knowing it's The Chainsmokers. I guess this also goes back to tying fashion into music merch. A lot of music merch will be spin-offs of fashion brands. I think that’s fun and people buy into that. But you're not moving your own brand in any direction necessarily because you're just kind of copying a fashion trend. But at the same time, let's say The Chainsmokers were to do a spin-off of Supreme. Then that's making a statement connecting The Chainsmokers with the skater vibe. So I think that's something that has recently been tapped into. But I do think it's important to really create that strong visual identity for each artist on their own so that that's where you can just keep building off of.

Zine from Co.Lab: Merch
Zine from Co.Lab: Merch

Have you noticed a shift in the way that you work with artists since you started doing it a couple years ago?

I started in fashion. I was at Vera Wang as a designer, and I started working with The Chainsmokers at that time on a clothing line. And then that kind of started merging into doing their music merch. I guess the clothing line was a way where we were bringing music and fashion together without being just their merch. I was kind of feeling like there was this strong connection between music and fashion. But I think since then, I've seen more artists wanting to work with creative directors and to have a strong creative team, because it's important to keep fans excited and engaged. Especially with the digital presence, you can really just directly connect with fans. I think doing limited edition and releasing things online is a great way to go about all that.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to defining merch? Does something like an app count?

Merch is anything that a fan could buy into from the artist. And I don't think merch necessarily has to be tangible anymore because so much is digital. I haven't done any merch that isn't tangible, but I definitely don't think it necessarily has to be.

What’s one piece of advice you have for artists who are starting to think about their visual identities when it comes to merch?

I think before any artist starts any work on a creative level, the first thing is to always know who you are and what you're trying to say. Because when I work with artists that's always the first thing that I want to know. Because that is something that you need to have in front of you. You need to go back to that and make sure everything stays true to the source. If you don't have a strong foundation then everything is going to collapse. It won’t be cohesive and no one's going to understand who you are.

—Spotify for Artists

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