Richard Beckman takes Haute Living on the ultimate, exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour into the making of his beloved Fashion Rocks
By Ayesha Khan
Photography Shot on Location at Radio City by Naila Ruechel
Another key aspect at the heart of the Fashion Rocks concept is its charity undertone.
All’s quiet in the 6,000 seat theatre at Radio City Music Hall. The dramatic cove-lit proscenium arches, inspired by a sunrise, symbolize the exhilarating sense of the calm before the storm. In only three weeks, this iconic venue will be thronging with adoring fans, and fashion and music glitterati, for the year’s greatest meeting of minds and talents, Fashion Rocks. In its 75 memorable years of operation, “The Showplace of the Nation” has seen over 300 million visitors, and generations of performers from its very own world-renowned Radio City Rockettes to music greats like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Pink Floyd. In the stillness of a Thursday evening, one can clearly envision the glamour and excitement of decades past: a grand Art Deco-age soirée hosted by Roxy Rothafel, the 1951 premiere of An American in Paris, or the star-studded screenings of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
But today this glorious stage belongs to Richard Beckman, president of the Condé Nast Media Group and creator of Fashion Rocks. He is impeccably dressed (as is to be expected of the man who published GQ for three years and Vogue for another four and a half) and in a jovial mood despite the marathon of meetings he is coming from-there is a show to plan. After a flawless hat trick of Fashion Rocks shows, Beckman is out to do it again. “There are six to seven moments in this show that will take your breath away,” he proclaims, with all the animation of a master who is as aware of his abilities as he is humble.
Each year, Fashion Rocks pays homage to the great music variety shows of the past, which Beckman believes were free from the “gratuitous self-congratulation” that dominates today’s music award shows. “Certainly the fusion of fashion and music is not an original idea. From the days of hip-hop, to when the Beatles came off the plane, to the material girl, Madonna, fashion and music have always been intertwined,” he explains. “Understanding that what we put on the table wasn’t an original idea, we wanted to execute the concept like it hadn’t been done before; to create a program that was really entertaining, really fun and didn’t take itself too seriously by burying itself in awards.”
Instead, Fashion Rocks will, as it has in previous years, intertwine the drama of the bold fashion statements found on runways around the world with the excitement of today’s hottest music performers. But what sets Fashion Rocks 2007 apart from its predecessors? “What you’ll see in the show this year is more true to the original concept, where we have a bunch of the most incredible contemporary artists interpreting classical moments that, in my mind, characterize music and fashion’s relationship over many decades.” A glittering roster that includes Jennifer Lopez, Aerosmith, Maroon 5, Ludacris, Usher, Santana, Fergie, Carrie Underwood, Avril Lavigne, and Martina McBride will join host Jeremy Piven. Beckman assures us that the highlight of the show will be a string of fascinating collaborations. “There are about six or seven great moments in the show where we have collaborations of great artists putting together classic songs, and I’m so excited that we got so many of the artists to cooperate this year.” And these unions, set against the designs of some of today’s most relevant designers, promise to be truly unique.
Given the overriding theme of fashion, I am compelled to ask what Beckman’s own views on fashion are. “I wouldn’t call myself a fashion slave, but I do like nice clothes. Women’s fashion is much more interesting than men’s! But in the men’s arena, I like Prada and Zegna, and for women I think Dolce & Gabbana, Vuitton, and Christian Dior are very feminine. I also think Derek Lam has an interesting body of work,” Beckman says. “John Galliano is also great, both with Dior and Galliano,” he adds. Being partial to the designer myself, I’ve been awaiting this answer from the London native.
Such a multi-faceted celebration of art is many months in the making, and I am interested to delve deeper into the fascinating pre-production aspect with the show’s creator. “In my youth, I was a failed music producer, and I’ve always had a passion for music and entertaining,” recalls the man who has created such impressive shows as the GQ Men of the Year Awards and the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards. “The challenge in the onset is that you’re building something on a house of clay, because you need to, first of all, raise the money. To raise the money, you need the network deal, and to get the network deal, you need the talent, so all of these things rely on each other,” he adds. “Everyone that touches you, from the music labels to the clients who you’re raising money from, have to believe in your ability to pull it off. There are those dark days when you start to write large checks before you’ve put all the pieces together, and I can tell you that, in the first year, that is incredibly challenging, because there is a modicum of risk in the first year.” But anyone who saw the results in 2004 would agree that Fashion Rocks was an instant success. And it is this repeated success that has now made Fashion Rocks the hottest ticket on the New York Fashion Week calendar. “Not only is it becoming easier with time, it’s becoming better with time! If you look at this year’s show and last year’s show, and compare them to the first show, they’re exponentially more sophisticated, and now I’m not worried at all because I have the best producers working with me.”
One of those esteemed producers is CBS Entertainment Executive Vice President of Specials, Music, and Live Events Jack Sussman, who offered us his own insights into the making of this great show. “Condé Nast and Richard Beckman are two of the smartest and most strategic marketing and production partners you could be in business with. Doing an event like this, which combines contemporary pop hit music, produced and choreographed in today’s current fashion world, with the Condé Nast Media Group gives it a great sense of creativity and a sense of must-watch viewing. We’re lining up some of the greatest musicians on the planet to all be in one place, at one time, in one show. You want to give the fans and the viewers something that they haven’t seen before, crafted in a different way than what you see every night on their tour. It can’t work in Radio City and not work on television, it has to work both places, that’s a challenge, and it’s not as easy as most people think.”
Another key aspect at the heart of the Fashion Rocks concept is its charity undertone. The show has allied itself with leading charities like Elton John’s AIDS Foundation last year, and Katrina disaster relief the year before. This year, proceeds from the show and its surrounding events will benefit a plethora of funds, including Carlos Santana’s Milagro Foundation (aimed at helping underrepresented and underprivileged children around the world with education, healthcare, and exposure to the arts), Charity Folks (through a dedicated online auction), and numerous other charities that fund critical humanitarian missions around the world. “The first year [the show] wasn’t a fundraiser. The second year was just after Katrina and we turned the show into a fundraiser, and our sponsors raised millions of dollars. We turned it into a telethon, and we all felt so good, which is why we collaborated with Elton John last year. Fashion Rocks will always be used to raise funds for great organizations because, I think, ‘Why not?'” says Beckman.
And so, after a barrage of pre-parties, from an exclusive evening with Carlos Santana, to the Rock and Republic official Fashion Rocks Pre-Party and soirées held by the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, the day of the show will be upon Beckman and his cohorts. This day typically entails a whirlwind of rehearsals and last minute meetings. “Starting early in the morning, we run the show as a dress rehearsal, as if it were live, and that way we really know what our challenges are. Then we regroup amongst ourselves (producers, director, stage crew, et cetera) and we talk about what challenges came up during dress rehearsal and how to solve them,” explains Sussman. As for Beckman’s pre-show jitters, he says, “It’s funny, since the day I first produced a show (when I was about nineteen years old), I always peak around the curtain from backstage, wondering if anyone is going to show up. And there is such a sigh of relief in my mind when I see the orchestra filling up with smiling faces full of anticipation! I also do get a little nervous about going out there and welcoming people.”
As I make one last attempt to extract more information about this year’s show, Beckman jokes, “What’s that phrase? ‘If I told you, I’d have to kill you!'” So we’ll just have to wait till the night of September 6 (and the subsequent 9 P.M. CBS broadcast on the 7th), when all eyes will be on Beckman and his talented team, which, this year, includes co-producer Anthony Eaton of Tall Pony Productions (best known for his work on the GRAMMY Awards) and OBO (known for producing various fashion shows, from Victoria’s Secret to Zegna and Chloé). This year’s show promises to be another truly memorable chapter in the Fashion Rocks saga. “We have a great franchise now, but we can’t be arrogant and conceited and think this will last forever exactly as it is. As happy as we are with the way the show is, everything has to evolve, and the key is to evolve the show before it needs to evolve,” Beckman says.
The next manifestation of the “Rocks” phenomenon is befittingly entitled Movies Rock, and is slated to hit LA’s Kodak Theatre this December. “If you think this is a great line-up, wait till you see Movies Rock,” exclaims Beckman. “We’ll have an incredible array of artists who will recreate some classic moments from the history of music and film, and it will be wrapped around some great directors and producers who will tell this story. It will be a very extravagant and elegant production.” Stay tuned!