Virginie Viard secured top-notch collaborators for today’s Chanel haute couture show, entrusting Kendrick Lamar and Dave Free with the making of a short film released alongside the collection. Called The Button, it’s a whimsical, intriguing consideration of the concept of “time and transmission,” as the maverick duo, who are partners in the independent communication and production company pgLang and each a creative force in his own right, explained backstage.
Written and directed by Free and scored by Lamar, the short film featured Margaret Qualley, the fresh-faced actress and Chanel ambassador, in the starring role, with cameo appearances by Naomi Campbell and actress Anna Mouglalis, another ambassador of the house. The story goes that Qualley receives a beautiful white Chanel jacket, pristine save for a button missing from its cuff. Eager to make the jacket perfect, she embarks on a fantasy journey to Paris’s rue Cambon, where she hopes the legendary Coco Chanel herself will help her in her quest. Once she’s admitted in her presence, the mysterious dressmaker, played by husky-voiced Mouglalis, restores the missing button, yet she tells encourage Qualley to find “beauty within the imperfection of time.”
Shot with concise grace in moody black-and-white, the short film has a fairy tale quality, conveying a persuasive message about how time adds layers of meaning to experience, and how imperfections, at least according to Lamar and Free, are just beauty’s flip side. An unreleased song by Lamar plays at the end of the clip, its powerfully introspective lyrics a reminder of why he was granted the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2018. Vogue sat down with Dave and Kendrick in the plush Chanel VIP backstage space to talk about passion, creativity, and the magic of couture.
The video you’ve envisioned for today’s Chanel couture show seems infused by a sort of magical quality, as its visuals and narration feel suspended between past and present. How did the concept come about?
Dave Free: Just talking with Virginie and Kendrick about the video initially, we wanted it to be a story about transmission and time; we wanted to frame how couture in its artful sense brings about the magic of Chanel, and how it can be passed down, and how we could frame the concept of transmission, from past times to current times, in a magical, fun, energetic way. We were thinking about Chanel, the timelessness, its classic spirit, and how to tie that in, and seeing it sort of from the outside in, putting the focus on the artisanal quality of the house, the absolute attention to craft and to details, and how that can drive a person to embrace also the idea of imperfection.
This idea of imperfection, of beauty being something that is elusive, yet meaningful—what’s your take on it? What’s beauty for you, as visual artists today?
Kendrick Lamar: For me beauty is the yin and yang of civilisation and glory; if I look at my personal life, or at the lives of people around me, I’m always intrigued by how they got into a certain situation, and how they got out of it. That’s the beauty, that’s the imperfection—no one has a perfect life, and there are no stories that are perfect. If you tell me you went from A to B in five minutes or in five years, that’s not intriguing to me. I want to know what was painful, I want to know what has caused you to evolve as a person, as a human being, what have you been through, because I can learn from your experience, and also pass it on to the next generation… If I can sit inside of my stress and shortcomings in a positive light, then it only makes me stronger, and [able to] pass this strength to my children. Going back to Chanel, it’s been a century, the story that Coco had in general, from where she came from, what she [went] through, all the way to living in a hotel that feels like home—that’s a story, that’s imperfection, and I can appreciate that more than lights and glamour. That’s the beauty for me.
So, it’s the human dimension that you’re drawn to and have tried to capture in the video…
Lamar: I spent quite some time in the Chanel atelier where they make those beautiful pieces. These people sewed, their hands touched the fabrics, they’ve put their hard work into every piece, their traumas have touched these pieces; it’s not just fabric, but people’s stories, and energy, and it’s something exceptional and deeply human that has to be always valued and appreciated.
Free: Fashion, music, and art today are all intertwined, I think all infuses and inspires. When artisans are creating they’re often listening to music, and when we’re creating we’re looking at fashion, at design, because it takes you out of your parameters, and it allows you to see every perspective, and when you see somebody pushing from a creative standpoint, it makes you wanna push it even further and take it to the next level. It shows you there are no boxes in the room, it’s just the illusion of a box from which you can walk out whenever you want… Thanks to Virginie and the Chanel team we had a deep education on the craft process, we were able to study up the story of the house, of Coco, and also of Virginie herself, how she learned behind Karl, and this was our time of being able to help her to achieve her vision.
Lamar: Virginie—she’s magic, she has so many ideas, so much creativity off the radar, so we said we have to match that in a certain way.
Free: She’s a detail creator. We have a lot of similarities, in the sense that she’s very shy and reserved, and that’s special to us; we share the same attitude, we’re rather reserved, and when we talk about how much time and energy goes into the creative process, you really don’t have any energy left for anything else, and just meeting her we could see that for her it was all about the work and the creation. This just got us inspired; Kendrick’s experience also can make you feel that if someone is super passionate, all they want to achieve is accomplishing their goals—while also being kind, with a bright spirit, a beautiful smile, that makes you wanna work even harder and match that energy.
The show closed with the song Kendrick wrote for the video; the lyrics are rather soulful: intense and personal. What were the feelings and message you wanted to convey?
Lamar: I wrote that song from a very strange place; looking back at it, it was a very vulnerable moment, where I was going through multiple things, and I didn’t know how to feel. You know, there are days you wake up in the morning and you say I just don’t feel good, right? But you feel something, and I had to understand that as long as I feel something that makes me appreciate the feeling of being alive. […] I truly believe that living and knowing that you’re living and being present in your life, it’s the ultimate gift, and we strive to recognise it everyday outside ourselves, from a soul standpoint, that we are in a physical body, and to devote everyday to understand that it’s the ultimate peace. So if I look back in hindsight, it was a stressful time, but now I have to say at least I was able to experience that moment, experience how I felt, experience the weight on my shoulder, the worry inside my heart, the mental strain I was going through, and just break through it and say ok, that’s just another stepping stone to who I am, and I believe it’s something people can relate to, and it went hand in hand with the film.
Free: It truly connected, just working like magic and so perfectly with what we wanted to say, before I even knew where Kendrick was going musically. It just felt like a perfect marriage with Virginie’s energy; you could tell that she was looking for something, be it a sense of peace, more elaboration on the story, or finding the perfect element that made sense for the story.
Lamar: It was a feeling of what she was looking for, whatever that might be—creative fulfillment at a fashion level, and constant searching for the ultimate vision.
You’ve also worked on the show’s set design.
Free: The design process was really cool, and it actually influenced the film; it was about making sure the space felt intimate, peaceful, and warm, inviting and personal; I haven’t seen this in fashion in a while, even the button on the roof coming slowly down was intended to make everybody feel more intimate and close. The film also has an element of closeness. We understand how live shows work, but understanding how a fashion show works, that’s a whole different thing. I’m so proud we’ve been able to pull it off, we have so many ideas in our world, but to bring fresh ideas into the fashion world was just magical.
Lamar: And ultimately it was about shining a light on the collection, it was about creating a frame, a stage for the fashion, to keep the attention on what was happening on the floor.
About the collection, let’s play fashion critics, what do you think about it?
Free: Well, It’s powerful, it’s beautiful, we didn’t really get to see it until a few days ago, and it was great, because creating as we did in isolation, Virginie, Kendrick, and me, we were actually communicating—sharing stories and ideas. And to see it come alive, it felt young, it felt fresh; I’ve never seen couture done this way, with such lightness.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.