On Thursday night at Los Angeles's Underground Museum, creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon celebrated the premiere of a new Kenzo campaign film, the Kahlil Joseph-directed "Music is My Mistress," showcasing Kenzo's kaleidoscopic spring/summer 17 collections. The short film is the fourth in a series of campaign movies commissioned by Kenzo, and stars actor and activist Jesse Williams, emerging musical talent Kelsey Lu, musician Ish, and Golden Globe winning actress Tracee Ellis Ross. Eschewing linear narrative in favor of divergent glimpses into a bigger story, the picture is an amalgamation of rhythms, visions, and moods, driven always by music.
Williams, perhaps best known for his powerful speech addressing racial injustice at last year's BET awards, plays a determined music manager scouring the streets of downtown Los Angeles for Gamma, the elusive recording artist portrayed by Ishmael Butler, one half of real-life hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces. With the equally ethereal celllist Kelsey Lu by his side, Gamma evades his would-be handler's grip. Somewhere along this well-intended fool's errand, Williams's character arrives at a palatious safehouse belonging to a lionized African princess played by Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross. There, his iPhone is confiscated and swapped for a throwaway burner. After three days of waiting, the enigmatic artist never shows.
Alive and pulsating, the film's true protagonist, and antagonist, is music. It's a shapeshifting, ever-changing, all-consuming entity which was equally represented at the premiere party, where the captivating Kelsey Lu and Ish entertained guests. For the outdoor screening, partygoers (including Sasha Lane, Amandla Stenberg, and Alia Shawkat) huddled around a fire-pit or lounged on an eclectic collection of pillows, poufs, and blankets strewn across the museum grounds.
Amandla Stenberg. Image courtesy of Kenzo.
While this was undoubtedly a fashion event, it was no ordinary fashion party. The unexpected location, the brainchild of late artist Noah Davis and his wife artist Karin Davis, is a free contemporary museum and cultural institution consciously created in the working class residential neighborhood of Arlington Heights as proud black space. Only a few miles away from Hollywood (the setting of last year's Kenzo premiere), but conceptually a far cry away, the event sent a clear message of unrestricted access to art for all.
Inside, while waiting for a second or third drink, guests could contemplate works from Non-fiction, Underground's current exhibition investigating the culture of violence perpetrated on black citizens, featuring important contributions by Kara Walker, Henry Taylor, and Marion Palfi. Other partygoers could be seen awkwardly deliberating whether or not they should use the bathroom marked "Whites Only" as part of the exhibition, while some posted selfies in-front of the signage. In a way, the event was a bit of a social experiment and performance piece in itself.
Sasha Lane. Image courtesy of Kenzo.
"This space is incredible, the message is strong and beautiful, the art is art that we love and the Underground is the perfect place to premiere this incredible work by Kahlil," said Leon. In the wake of the election, when so much of the fashion world has come under fire for remaining silent in the face of staggering hate and injustice, Lim and Leon haven't backed down. "We have been very clear since day one of Kenzo that our aim is to live in the moment and that yes, Kenzo is big company, an original Maison in Paris, but it is being directed by two people who have an opinion on life," explained Leon, of the decision to cast outspoken actors and activists to front their spring/summer 17 campaign. "It is important that we can communicate, like having a conversation with our friends, through all our collections, shows, ad campaigns and films. We have taken a stance every season, sometime it's subtle, sometimes it's fun and sometimes it's just the truth."
Text Jane Helpern