Model DJs Put Glamorous Spin On the Turntables During Fashion Week

By Janet Upadhye on February 11, 2014 12:40pm 

LINCOLN CENTER — During Fashion Week, the most stylish person in the room might be wearing headphones at the DJ booth.

Fashion Week DJs are hired to spin cutting-edge beats and stay ahead of the musical curve, all while looking like models — which some of them are, too, in their spare time.

Some start as DJs and get picked up for modeling work by the well-connected, fashionable crowd they work for, while others start as models and branch into DJing to gain new skills and get more exposure. There's even a school — in Brooklyn — to teach models the record-spinning skills they need.

"When I first started DJing it was somewhat novel to see a stylish woman behind the turntables," said fashionista/DJ Chelsea Leyland, 25. "I started to get modeling jobs because of the fact that I was female DJ."

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DJs provide the music for runway shows and also contribute to the overall feel of the event because of their looks and the clothes from the designer that they sometimes sport.

"Fashion Week DJs are the life of the show. They are curating the music and creating the mood," said DJ May Kwok, 28, who lives on the Lower East Side. "DJs are also creating the aesthetic atmosphere and a big part of that is looking good in the designer's clothing."

Kwok has worked as a DJ for designers Richard Chai, Camilla Skovgaard and Catherine Malandrino. She also models for designer Yara Flinn and recently shot a commercial for Carolina Herrera.

It's Kwok's eclectic taste in music, along with her edgy style and model looks, that make the Queens native an in-demand Fashion Week DJ, according to Refinery 29. (Check out Kwok's fashion week playlist here on Soundcloud.)

Leyland keeps a full schedule during fashion week. The Williamsburg resident said that the hardest part of the week was meeting the demand to look good as well as playing fresh music.

"There is a lot of planning that goes into fashion week," she said. "I can spend up to a month creating a playlist for a designer prior to the show and then I literally have to plan for at least three outfit changes a night."

Leyland — who said she makes a point of wearing a piece of the designer's collection when spinning at a show — is DJing for designers Veronica Beard and Naeem Khan this Fashion Week and playing at a dizzying number of after-parties and events, while also modeling for Vanity Fair magazine and Gucci.

And because DJs with model's looks are increasingly in demand, there's even a place that trains them.

STADJ, a Brooklyn-based DJ booking company with offices in Williamsburg, started a school six years ago that teaches models everything from building a playlist to scratching and using special equipment.

"DJing is primarily an audio experience but it is also visual," founder P.C. Miller said. "Our clients want a DJ that grabs attention."

Many STADJ DJs have contracts with top modeling agencies such as Ford and Wilhelmina Models, Miller said.

But Kwok said that while looking good was important during fashion week, modeling takes a backseat to creating cutting-edge playlists.

"Doing photo shoots has to come second to the music," Kwok said.

Leyland agreed, adding that her true passion was the music.

"I can look at a collection and hear the music that should be playing as the models walk down the runway," she said. "Ultimately my job is to make the designer happy."

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