Humberto Leon and Carol Lim of Kenzo on Their Fashion Film ‘Snowbird’

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Critically acclaimed independent film director Sean Baker, of Tangerine fame, teamed up with Kenzo for an exciting new project, a short film called Snowbird shot entirely with an iPhone 6 and starring Mad Max: Fury Road’s Abbey Lee Kershaw. Rather than glamorizing the clothes, Baker and Kenzo recontextualized them according to the poverty-stricken culture of the American trailer park. This juxtaposition of high and low manages to make the clothes a dramatic character in the film. In this exclusive interview, Savoir Flair talks to Sean Baker and the Kenzo creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon about this collaboration.

Photo: Courtesy of Kenzo

Since this film features the Spring/Summer 2016 collection, what’s with the title Snowbird?
Sean: I like the contrast because I think that it intrigues the audience. If you look up the definition of Snowbird, it has to do with those wayward people of the Slab City community, the sort of nomadic nature in which they live there; some of them live there in winter and travel north in summer. The individuals who just live in Slab City in that part of the year are called Snowbirds. Abbey’s character Theo is obviously somebody who comes and goes.

Snowbird isn’t your typical fashion film and it doesn’t seem like a commercial for a brand. It’s set in a trailer park, which is not the most glamorous location. Did that even cross your mind, Carol and Humberto, this disconnect between the expected glamor of fashion and this locale?
Humberto: What’s interesting is that we had a photo of Slab City on our inspiration board from the beginning, and so when he mentioned Slab City, I was like, “Wait! That image has been on our board from the beginning of this collection.” I think that’s why we both felt like this was the right thing and us working together would be the perfect project. We always have a story that we tell as we’re building the collection and Sean took the story to the next level.

We always have a story that we tell as we’re building the collection and Sean took the story to the next level.

Since the beginning of us doing advertising, we’ve always wanted to immerse ourselves into something culturally relevant. It was exciting to let Sean take the reins on this and have him explore an idea that he would also be proud of as a short film. I think it’s more interesting when we can really work in a partnership where the partner can have a say in what this thing develops into.

Photo: Courtesy of Kenzo

Carol: A campaign in the form of film is another expression, so I always think it’s exciting to see what else can come out. The baseline would be talking about this woman and this community and who she is, and then how that gets interpreted as a character into Sean’s perspective. For us, that’s really exciting. We wouldn’t want to put limitations on him by saying,”Well, we did this before,” because that’s not what this is about.

Humberto: We never had parameters of what a fashion film should be. We’ve always pushed as much as we can in this genre because we come to this as fans of film and music, so we want these elements to come out as authentic as possible. We’re not afraid to go further than most brands out there.

We’re not afraid to go further than most brands out there.

Photo: Courtesy of Kenzo

Why was Abbey Lee perfect for this role? Did you see her in Mad Max?
Sean: I did see her in Mad Max and I’m a big fan of George Miller, but actually Abbey reached out to me, which was really cool. She was a huge fan of Tangerine. She saw it twice in the theater. Then within just a couple of weeks, after I conversed briefly with her via e-mail, the Kenzo opportunity came up. It seemed like the perfect marriage. It was meant to be that she contacted me just a couple of weeks before this came about.

What is it about the Kenzo collection that triggered this narrative?
Sean: When I first spoke to Humberto and Carol, we talked about the themes of voyage, travel, and exploration. They just didn’t want images of a model showing off clothes in a field. There was a definite desire to have a beginning, middle, and end to the story. There was something about somebody walking through Slab City looking for something. Then, I don’t know, I was just looking for a human story, something that had a universal theme. In this case, I just was thinking everybody has a birthday, and sometimes we don’t get our birthday recognized when we want it to be recognized. I thought this is probably something everybody has gone through to a certain degree and so I can find a narrative here and flesh, knowing that, on the day when we’re actually shooting, the colorful residents of Slab City would bring something more to it.

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