Bald from a young age, Yoann Lemoine, aka Woodkid, figured out that a baseball cap helps visually balance his beard, and it’s become his signature accessory.
As for his clothes, he currently relies on Nicolas Ghesquière, who figured out that jumpsuits and pants with a high waistline, strong shoulders and astronaut vibes are just what he needed for his new album, “S16,” due out on Friday with a world tour in 2021, health conditions allowing.
The two Frenchmen share a taste for clashing disparate inspirations, styles and aesthetics, and Lemoine — known for melding orchestral sweep with electronic clang — credits Ghesquière for pushing him to experiment even further. Woodkid has soundtracked about ten Louis Vuitton shows, and Lemoine relishes the challenge of adding new elements to his sonic palette.
If his debut album, 2013’s “The Golden Age,” was a Hollywood blockbuster, the new one is a sci-fi thriller, he says.
“It’s still very cinematic and emotional,” he says in an interview over Zoom. “It’s definitely a darker album. I think it’s more moody. There’s a bit more of an attitude.”
To be sure, the 11 songs are plaintive and spare, putting a strong focus on Lemoine’s distinctive singing voice — a deep, tremulous croon with built-in reverb.
Lemoine, 37, confesses he runs a bit against the grain of music industry norms, insisting on taking his sweet time between albums and dealing with unhappy subject matter, including mental health.
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“It’s something that I’m struggling with a lot. It’s something that has been slowing me down a lot, too,” he admits. “I believe that I needed to make this record to heal a little bit, and I realized that I tend to say things in music earlier than when I verbalize things in my life.
“It’s an album that talks about failed love relationships and the beauty that there is in admitting how fragile we can be sometimes, but with that super sci-fi varnish on top of it,” he explains in a far more animated fashion than the impassive, half-cyborg CGI version of himself created for the “S16” project. Its name refers to the atomic number for sulfur, and explains the industrial and petrochemical references and imagery around the album.
Lemoine was a film director first, and he says he often develops musical and visual ideas in tandem. His disquieting video for “Goliath” depicts a forlorn mining worker entranced by a mammoth machine chewing on a giant shelf of coal, while he sings “the more I forgive you, the more it backfires.”
Before he became Woodkid, Lemoine earned fame for directing music videos including Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die,” Taylor Swift’s “Back to December” and Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” Ultimately, his wish to control the music, too, got the better of him, and his video for his first single “Iron,” featuring then “It” model Agyness Deyn, cemented the Woodkid style of soaring, heroic sounds and medieval-meets-“Metropolis” imagery.
Lemoine says he’s sensitive to clothes as a director, knowing they can help build a character.
He’s also something of a magnet for fashion people, citing a close relationship with Christian Lacroix forged more than a decade ago at an Hyères festival, and with Kris Van Assche, who dressed him for the stage during the designer’s Dior Homme years and even dedicated his fall 2013 collection to “Iron.”
Lemoine was first conscripted by Vuitton to do a video game-like film to tease a 2017 collection. The soundtrack caught Ghesquière’s ear and led to an ongoing collaboration on show music.
Ghesquière calls it “an incredible moment where we feed one another creatively. For each show, we enjoy creating a new story.”
What’s more, “Yoann has a strong affinity for fashion,” the designer adds. “I remember watching the music video to ‘Iron’ and was instantly struck by Yoann’s universe. Yoann’s tracks are instant classics. His voice is fascinating. When you hear it, you’re hooked.”
To be sure, Lemoine strongly relates to Ghesquière’s bold fashions, often tinged with sci-fi elements, and his method of clashing various periods to produce something new.
In fact, he was buying and wearing Vuitton women’s wear long before Ghesquière’s spring 2021 show, an exploration of gender-fluid dressing.
“Even before that, I realized that in his work, there was always a lot of stuff that I could wear. If you’re okay with the higher waist and you’re okay with certain shapes, I think it’s really super wearable as a guy,” Lemonie says.
He also asked for his album and stage costumes to have a feminine touch “to push me out of my comfort zone.”
Which is what his music does also, against the grain of what most people advised him.
“Whenever I started to talk in a very realistic way about mental health or about sadness or doubt, I felt like a sense of rejection from people. ‘Oh, are you sure you want to go there? I’m not sure we should play that on the radio,’” he recounts. “Actually, I think that a lot of people can identify with it.”
He admits being a melancholic sort. After all, he did the “Unhappy Remix” of Pharrell William’s mega-hit “Happy.”
Yet he says the morose mood and sober subject make the bright moments in his music more transcendent. He closes the album with a song called “Reactor,” featuring some of his signature cinematic sweep overlaid with a Japanese children’s choir, creating a sound that is unsettling but ultimately uplifting.
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