Ten Minutes With Kenzo’s Humberto Leon About Everything
And by everything, we mean The Everything – his just-released short flick starring Mila Jovovich, Alexandra Shipp and Kodi Smit-McPhee questioning the boundaries of fashion, film and everything in between. Humberto’s half-hour directorial debut is a fantastical comedrama, a proper mix of all the genres imaginable. It’s also the campaign for Kenzo’s Autumn collection. Just like his fashion designs, the film effortlessly blends a multitude of cultural references into one cohesive bunch. The brand’s previous forays into film have been quite something – with both Humberto and his business partner Carol Lim being so close to the coolest NYC cinema crew (think Chloe Sevigny, Spike Jonze and Natasha Lyonne) they have been acing the game ahead of everyone else. It’s safe to say they were heading the new wave of fashion videography with something more than just a girl twirling in a dress.
We won’t spoil the film for you so no more chat about that, so please go ahead and watch it above, and then scroll down and read our Ten Minutes with Humberto. The film officially premiered last night as part of New York Fashion Week, but I got a chance to watch a bit early and then have a telephone chat with the brain behind it. He was in New York, I was in London and the telephone line was surprisingly good. This is what ensued…
Dino Bonacic: Hello! Firstly – congrats on the film. I watched it yesterday in bed and it totally took me back to my childhood and watching all the cult comedies when I should have been sleeping. How and when did this whole thing come about?
Humberto Leon: Thanks a lot! Well, we shot it in April, but the idea of the film has kinda been mulling in my head for the last 10 years. I wrote the script in late February, right after the show that we had in Paris.
DB: Ok, so a decade in the making – what made you decide to do it now? Was it the looks from the collection that were the catalyst?
HL: Well, the film actually contains both the Fall collection and the Memento collection, which we’ve never done before, kinda mixing it all up. What I think is really interesting is that we actually decided to work on the film prior to even designing the collection. So I think there’s something really kind of interesting about being able to design a collection that I knew I was gonna make a film out off later. The collection itself was based off of my love of film, so we looked at all these different film genres that inspired the collection, so there’s this kinda real big 360° meta experience that happens throughout the full season.
DB: Yeah, I mean that definitely comes across that this project is part campaign part film part fashion film. As I was watching it, I had a kind of conversation with myself, thinking about the ways to look at it. Was it just a film with fabulous fashion in it? A fashion film with a really good plot? Actually, what makes a fashion film?
HL: I think you kind of asked yourself the best questions. Number one: I admire film. I really pay attention to costuming and that it has a deliberate message into characters. So, those that have done have stood out to me as a fashion designer that watches a lot of film. If you were to list 10 films that made an impact, it would those ones that really considered all the aspects. I always ask the question about fashion films being. I think they have always been this genre in itself where they’re an entertaining visual blitz of visual sensation but I always think – what’s the storyline here? Are they trying to say something? Or are they just throwing visual ideas in front of me… Those were the questions I wanted to answer with this film, I wanted there to be a true narrative that you really took away. I love the idea of somebody completely not in fashion like a lawyer or a doctor that stumbled upon this and said “Oh, wow I’m really entertained by this.” or “Those are cute shoes!”.
DB: What were the most influential films for you personally? There’s a spirit of John Hughes films as well as elements of 1970’s horror films like Suspiria.
HL: In the collection itself, the inspirations were ranging from Wong Kar Wai to Hitchcock films to even like fun horror films. There’s also films that I loved while growing up, like John Hughes’s. Who didn’t grow up in the 80’s loving his films? There’s also David Lynch, who I’m a big fan of. But then there’s all these pop films like Thelma and Louise and Ghost. I grew up in a genre where each film had its own statement. You were able to be a little bit funny, a little bit sassy, a little bit scary. Those kind of films always really spoke to me.
DB: Do you remember the first film you’ve ever seen?
HL: It was this really crazy film called Cat People. My parents were watching it and I remember lying on my mum’s lap. I was really young, and it was really sexy with a lot of nudity. It was about people that turned into cats and would kill people. I also grew up watching a lot of Chinese soap operas. All these Hong Kong TV scenes, watching Asian dramas unfold – I’ve always had a knack for some type of drama.
DB: You just mentioned your mum who, along with Spike Jonze, is one of the two cameos in The Everything. How did that happen?
HL: She was, she was a last minute add! We were on set, my mum showed because we were filming at my high school so she was excited, taking pictures there. Spike was getting ready for his part and said “Wendy, what part are you in?” and she was like “I’m not in one!” Then he decided to make her his superintendent so he shoved her into hair and make-up. So it was Spike’s idea and I thought it was a fun little twist.
DB: So, you mentioned this two-way relationship between the film and the collection. How did you approach this costume design in the film particularly? When did you think about what each of the characters were wearing?
HL: As I was designing the collection I definitely had certain characters in mind. Shelly only wore pastels, so I needed to make sure I had like a big representation of pastels. I wanted Bobby to be somewhat nerdy but cool, but I didn’t want him to think that he was cool. Together with our costume designer Shirley Kurata, we really kinda gave heavy descriptions about every character, and broke apart the collection which felt very liberating. It’s about not feeling precious about the looks that we create for the runway and seeing what repeats itself a thousand times in editorials and ad campaigns. We live in a different world now and I understand why that kind of consistency is big but I feel like seeing it all evolve and different aspects come out – it was that feeling of breaking apart, mixing the Memento collection with the Autumn one; with the commercial jeans also making an appearance. With this film, you really get a sense of the depth of the brand which is all very liberating and exciting for everyone.
DB: Okay, so now the element of the magic in the film. With each of the three main characters, they all have different powers connected to their looks. In a way, you used fashion as a magical power but what was the inspiration behind that? What is your view on fashion as a magical entity?
HL: I wanted to choose powers that felt very immediate. I’ve always thought the ability to change shoes is something that you can maybe even change the world with. I also loved the idea of the hair changes because it felt like that’s something that I think about even with myself all the time. I’m the type of person who doesn’t think about a haircut until the day I need it, and then there’s never an appointment. And then the nails part – I love the idea of being able to create some type of loose interpretation of a weapon and I love that Shelly’s weapon was getting this guy’s nails corkscrewed together so he couldn’t even move his hands at the end.
DB: And putting the heels on the guy as well, that’s a great self-defence mechanism.
HL: Exactly! That would really make someone fall over. I love the way that they ended up kind of, taking down the bully at the end – it felt very liberating.
DB: And now the dreaded question: are you going ahead and doing the same thing for the next collection and the next film? With the Mulleavy sisters and Tom Ford, there seems to be a lot of designers foraying into filmmaking. What’s your plan?
HL: I think this was just a one-off thing. We like to do new things so it felt like a great one-off for us. Not that I wouldn’t ever do a film again, but I think the idea of doing this in the same kind of format… There’s a lot of people I would love to work with, through print and film and everything else, so I think we’ll definitely be able to collaborate with other people. But I think it was a great – a fun way to really evolve the whole film thing we’ve been doing and it felt very different to what we’ve done in the past.
DB: And it was absolutely great – thanks so much and good luck with the premier!
HL: Thank you!
The Everything written and directed by Humberto Leon is out now.