If Michaelangelo L’Acqua hadn’t fallen out of love with producing and mixing music for over 150 fashion shows in New York, Paris, Milan and Berlin, he wouldn’t have landed his dream job as the first global music director for W Hotels. He’s been the man behind the runway music for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Jil Sander, Diane von Furstenberg, Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford at Gucci, where he served as a music director.
A graduate of The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music program, where the 38-year-old L’Acqua says he studied jazz with the “remaining living masters who played with John Coltrane and Miles Davis,” he started his gig with W in September during New York Fashion Week, where the hotel has hosted its VIP Backstage Lounge for 12 years. He is working on the hotels’ music programming, which includes DJing events at W Hotels in Manhattan as well as upcoming fashion week events, selecting and mixing tracks for W’s seventh CD coming out in January and creating DJ parties at W Hotels in New York. The party series kicked off with Jaleel from TV on the Radio, and later with entertainers like Classixx, Hercules and Love Affair. The new W CD will represent a universal flavor and will be played and sold at all 35 of the company’s hotels ranging from New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Hong Kong, to Barcelona, Seoul and Doha, Qatar.
L’Acqua’s most recent fashion-music gig before joining W Hotels was in 2008 when he was tapped by Karl Lagerfeld to produce Elle Germany’s pricy $10 million extravaganza for its 20th anniversary as well as Chanel’s runway show, both at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin.
WWD: Was jazz and contemporary music always your medium?
M.L.: No, I started playing the violin when I was six and by eight was studying classical violin at the Manhattan School of Music. By 14, I was attending an all-boys Catholic school, but it was a sports school. It just didn’t work out for me. By 20, I heard of Charlie Parker music and got into bebop. At 20, I had to relearn the violin and I had to catch up so quickly. But it’s a completely different language. Jazz is based on classical and subdivisions, one coherent thought throughout a math equation, versus the violin, which is like a ballerina, so delicate and specific.
WWD: How did you become interested in fashion and its connection with music?
M.L.: I had just done all the [music] mixes for a Cynthia Rowley show in 1999, when I was approached by [fashion show producer] Kevin Krier who asked, “Would you do an audition for a big client?” The next thing I knew I was on a plane to Paris. I was introduced to Tom Ford who was then at Gucci. I didn’t know who he was. I was suddenly a real person in a surreal fashion world. I wondered to myself, “is he from Ford trucks?” There were a lot of things he said to me about branding and marketing that didn’t make sense to me at the time. Ford said he closed his store in Hawaii, which was grossing $3 million a year. I asked him why would he close a $3 million store, and he said, “because not everyone should have Gucci.”
WWD: Is it difficult interpreting a designer’s vision through music?
M.L.: For 10 years I was feeling vibes, having live conversations, inspiring them to come to that moment. Some would say “I want it very dark and sparse,” and then say “I want it to be bright with lots of color.” It was like an oxymoron. For the first year, I had no clue what they were saying. It’s about patience and focus, but it’s so difficult during fashion week because there are no filters. It’s also a problem because there are always too many cooks in the kitchen and there’s a peanut gallery of people who have no true value of music. They diminish what I am. Only I can create the music. Fashion week became hell for me, and I fell out of love because I compromised too many times.
WWD: So, what did you do to unwind on your down time before joining W Hotels?
M.L.: As a recording artist under the name Onda, which in Portuguese means “wave,” I was a producer for The Isley Brothers’ “Taken to the Next Phase” remix for Sony Music Entertainment’s Legacy Recordings, and executive produced “Re:Generations” The Nat King Cole Remix Project for EMI/Capitol Records. I worked with artists Gnarls Barkley, Cee-Lo, The Roots, Damien and Steve Marley and Natalie Cole.