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Kenzo's New Fashion Film Made Us Cry

"The part where it’s a campaign is secondary," explained Humberto Leon of "Snowbird," which premiered in Los Angeles Tuesday.

While it may feel like every fashion label is now making really long commercials that they're calling short films, Kenzo just stepped it up a notch. Tuesday night at the Hollywood American Legion in Los Angeles, the brand premiered “Snowbird” (which you can watch above), a dreamy and surprisingly moving film that explores some heady themes and showcases Kenzo’s spring/summer 2016 line in its 11-minute running time. Creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim tapped filmmaker Sean Baker (who helmed last year’s critically acclaimed "Tangerine") for the project. Shot entirely on an iPhone in the California desert campground Slab City, "Snowbird" stars "Mad Max"'s Abbey Lee as a girl on a sun-drenched, high-fashion quest to share a homemade cake with her off-the-grid neighbors.

Los Angeles natives Leon and Lim are known to throw a perfect California party and last night was no exception. The designers stepped away from their corner of cool with guests Natasha Lyonne, Miranda July, Carrie Brownstein and Caroline Vreeland to sit down with us and discuss their creative process, filmmaking and why “Snowbird” is more than a commercial.

Carol Lim, Abbey Lee, Sean Baker and Humberto Leon. Photo: Kenzo

Carol Lim, Abbey Lee, Sean Baker and Humberto Leon. Photo: Kenzo

You always do something out of the ordinary and innovative. Do you feel pressure to top yourselves?

Leon: I think with both Opening Ceremony and Kenzo, we try to approach things in a way that feels interesting and new to us. We view ourselves as the guest and the audience member — not just as someone trying to throw a fashion party. We are in our fifth year at Kenzo and while we try to think out of the box, we do have a certain formula between the two of us that is super natural. Still, we push ourselves with our campaigns and we come to it as fans of advertising. We look at every page of a magazine and we think, we have to make this count.

You did your first film, “Here Now,” last year with Gregg Araki. Do you plan to do a trilogy, or is it more open-ended?

Leon: We think of the [print] ads as movie posters for our movies. It's just a new format for us. We always think of things in a series, so we are already thinking of a third one. There could be a fourth or a fifth, but three is a really good number for us. 

Can you talk a little about the process between you and Sean?

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Leon: We start the conversation. We say, here are the two collections, you can watch the runway shows, here's what we did at the presentations, and this was our inspiration for the collection itself (it's always a really long-winded story we write that describes what the collection is about—whether you see it on the runway or not is irrelevant; it just defines how we work). Then he interprets it. During filming, we really got into it. We would ask ourselves things like, do we have to mess up these dresses? We don't want it to look anything like the runway. There is never this preciousness of, 'We showed this look on the runway with an earring so we want to replicate it in the movie.' We scrap it and start from scratch.

Lim: The good news is we have a pretty big collection so everything [you see in the film] is Kenzo.

Abbey Lee in Kenzo's print campaign. Photo: Sean Baker/Kenzo

Abbey Lee in Kenzo's print campaign. Photo: Sean Baker/Kenzo

Was there some sort of final editorial say over the film? Was it yours?

Leon: It really was a true collaboration. We were there on set throughout the whole shoot. But when he sent us the final video with the password, we were just like, "Holy shit!"

How do you feel like "Snowbird" is different from other fashion films?

Lim: I think other brands might do montages or glimpses of a moment. But this has a narrative and a complete journey. This is an actual short film.

So you don't see it as a commercial?

Lim: We don't. It will be featured in French cinema as a trailer to feature films. It's in the MK2 network, which is France's biggest independent film network. It will play in Charles de Gaulle and JFK. We try to think of how we can innovate the rollout instead of just putting things online.

Leon: Right. We're touring "Snowbird." It's going to short film festivals. It's a piece of [Baker's] work. The part where it's a campaign is secondary. First and foremost, it's a short film.