Mark Ronson on Crafting the Emotionally-Charged Soundtrack for Sabato De Sarno’s Gucci Debut

Photo: Federico Ciamei

This afternoon, in a cavernous former aircraft factory within the Gucci headquarters in Milan, Sabato De Sarno unveiled his first collection for the Italian house in the most hotly-anticipated debut of the season. Yet almost as striking as the sleek, minimal looks being paraded down the runway was the soundtrack that accompanied them: a cinematic string opening featuring the voice of Lykke Li gently fading into that of the XX’s Romy, before a grand finale that included a toe-tapping remix of the Italian pop classic Mina’s “Ancora ancora ancora.” All of that came from a collaborator De Sarno knew he could trust: Mark Ronson

Except it turns out—somewhat surprisingly, given his regular presence on the Fashion Month circuit—that it’s the first time Ronson has soundtracked a fashion show. “I like new experiences,” said Ronson the day before the show. “I like humbling experiences, where you might need to go back to the drawing board a few times. I don’t have an ego about that. So I’ve really enjoyed it.”

It all began around a month ago, when Ronson—who has a long-standing relationship with Gucci that stretches back over a decade, having DJed a number of their events over the years—was connected with De Sarno to discuss his plans for the brand. “We had a little bit of a chat about his vision for the show, and this ‘ancora’ concept,” said Ronson, referring to the campaign that has seen the multi-layered Italian word for “again” or “still” emblazoned across buildings around the world in the lead-up to the show. “It was really about coming back to something, or falling in love again.” 

Naturally, one of the first songs that sprang to mind for De Sarno was Mina’s 1978 hit, which he then sent to Ronson—who quickly became obsessed. “It has tinges of things that I’ve done before, but it’s also a very epic, Italian sweeping ballad,” said Ronson. “So I preserved a lot of things that are really beautiful about the original, like the vocals and the strings, but then gave it a new beat and added my thing to it. Sabato was telling me about all this other amazing Italian pop music from the ’70s and ’80s that was important to him, so I went down the rabbit hole on that.”

Given the decade-hopping spirit of De Sarno’s collection, however, Ronson also wanted to sprinkle in a few more contemporary touches. After De Sarno told Ronson that his 2019 album of “sad bangers” Late Night Feelings was a particular favorite, the musician decided to incorporate a ghostly remix of the Lykke Li-featuring title track at the beginning, and when they were discussing contemporary artists whose sensibility might dovetail neatly with De Sarno’s vision, they quickly landed on Romy, a mutual friend of the pair who recently released her debut solo album Mid Air. (The soundtrack deftly moved between Li’s melody from “Late Night Feelings” and the soulful, yearning vocals of Romy’s “Loveher.”) 

For Ronson, the experience felt most akin to scoring a film—a realm he ventured into for the first time recently, with his chart-topping soundtrack for Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. “Us musicians or producers are used to serving one master, which is to get the best song possible,” he said. “But what I realized by doing this is that you can have a great piece of music that Sabato would be happy to play in his car on a Sunday night, but it doesn’t necessarily align with how he’s viewing his collection, or what he wants people to feel. Although at some point, if you’re lucky, you end up in the same fever dream, and then everything that you do instinctually seems to be what the other person needs.”

Photo: Federico Ciamei

Naturally, the close collaboration involved in bringing the soundtrack to life—first with a series of back and forths between Ronson’s New York studio and Gucci’s Rome headquarters, and then over the past few days as they applied the finishing touches together in person—has also led Ronson and De Sarno to strike up a friendship. “I mean, we still have two more days to fall out,” Ronson said with a laugh. “He has such an incredible energy. And despite what anybody else might find to be this crazy pressure, it being his first time as creative director of a house, he just puts everybody at ease. It’s not like he isn’t looking over every single detail, but it’s not this kind of running around, barking orders, putting people under stress. He has a great energy, and it’s inspiring.”

Unsurprisingly, as Ronson’s parting shot before he leaves Milan, he’ll also be DJing the afterparty—meaning it might take a moment or two longer until he and De Sarno can toast to the show’s success. “Everyone can celebrate while I’m DJing though,” he said. “Plus, I’ve DJed many Gucci parties over the years, and it’s never me stuck in the corner not having fun.” And after spending the past few days together getting to know De Sarno and his team, will that help guide his DJ setlist at all? “Oh yes,” Ronson joked. “I’m just going to play ‘Ancora ancora ancora’ 12 times!” 

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