Confrontation and escape, confrontation and escape. In a world besieged by disease, economic disparity, climate upheaval, and social unrest, bystanders are caught between a constant battle between confrontation and escape. The roving curiosity of humanity seeks out the news, and then is forced to retreat. We need to know, but we can only handle so much.
Likewise, the fashion world is dancing the same dance. Fashion brands are doing their part to help out in the crisis, and at the same time are tasked with escapism; we need fashion’s beauty and fantasy in order to cope with all the ugliness. For its part, Italian luxury giant Valentino has donated millions in the fight against COVID-19, and its Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli has been instrumental in bringing diversity to the Paris catwalks. Thoughtfulness and fashion are clearly not mutually exclusive.
Complimenting the social actions of Valentino is its new Spring/Summer 2020 accessories campaign designed for Valentino Garavani by Piccioli exclusively for the Middle East, starring a ‘Vsling’ capsule collection. Shot in dreamy surrealist scapes designed by talented Dubai-based photographer Abdulla Elmaz, the bags quite literally come to life. They are suspended above pools of water before taking the plunge, knocked together in the perpetual motion of Newton’s cradle, and revealed behind waving palm fronds. Elmaz set his imagination free, resulting in an astonishing Valentino campaign that elevated the brilliant photographer to new heights. In an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, Elmaz detailed the making of the shoot, and what he hopes each viewer takes away from the experience. Listen in.
As far as its worldwide release, would you say this is the biggest luxury fashion campaign you’ve worked on?
Yes, most definitely. To be approached by the [Valentino] team directly was such an honor. I knew whatever I created had to be next level – even for myself.
In this campaign, your recontextualization of fashion objects gives rise to pure fantasy images. How did this idea come to you?
When I got this job, I had set up meetings that went on for hours with my team in Paris, Beige Pill Productions. We were all bouncing ideas off one another, coming up with the strongest ideas we could as a collective. I wanted to create something that was dreamy, but also meant something visually. When people look at these animations, they are taken to another dream-like world. I tend to always play with the same ideas — mirrors, roses, and gravity — that are timeless and everyday objects around us.
Your animations depict everything from a Newton’s Cradle movement and bags bouncing on a rope to a string of fluorescent bags dangling like a marionette. As different as they all are, one thing that unites them is your use of light and shadows. Why is lighting one of the most important aspects of your work?
Lighting will take an image to another level. I add light to an image and it gives that high-end feel. When I highlight something in an image, I want the viewer’s eye to instantly look at that light, then it can allow the viewer’s eyes to make its way off the image in the composition that I lead them to.
When I first started photography, I never cared about light. It was always the last thing on my mind. Back in 2018 when I lit up a face for one of my photos, it was a complete mistake, but I fell in love with it. I thought it was one of the most timeless images. I could post it in 10 years and still have people think it was just created. I tell a lot of people that lighting is crucial and it can make an image 10 times better. When a shoot idea comes to me, I think of the concept first, and lighting is the next thing I consider. Lighting is the deal-breaker for any location I choose; it has to be perfect.
What does it feel like to become part of the Valentino legacy with this incredible campaign?
Just a complete honor. It was a door that I waited years to open and finally it happened, all because I posted an animation of a bag on my Instagram. Instagram is such a powerful tool these days. You never know who is watching you, or who will approach you next. I’m very lucky.
You are so gifted at igniting the imagination through your creative work. What do you hope sparks in the mind of those who see this special campaign?
I wanted this campaign to bring joy to people. I wanted to make it fun and upbeat, yet also at the same time, take them to a dreamscape where they could get their minds off the issues in the world today. If I can grab their attention for even three seconds and they can feel a bit of happiness from these images, then I’m happy.