Its premise was about resisting life’s ugliness with grace and joy. Now, it expresses this idea afresh with a new campaign and face. Goh Yee Huay reports from Seoul.
It all started with a photograph. On October 21, 1967, French photojournalist Marc Riboud was in Washington D.C. covering a massive rally opposing America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Anti-war fervour was at fever pitch, and protesters were out in force.
As the crowd (more than 100,000 strong, by some estimates) converged on the Pentagon, they were met by a line of rifle-wielding soldiers. That was when Riboud noticed a lone high-school girl standing serenely in front of the troops, their bayonets mere inches away from her. In her hands she clasped a single flower, raised in front of her face like a gentle offering.
This moment when idealism and innocence squared up to brute force was captured by Riboud in a photograph that became not only his calling card but a defining image of the anti-war movement and the flower power era. Printed in newspapers and magazines around the world, the photo was widely credited with turning public opinion against the Vietnam War. And more than three decades later, its message of fighting negativity with beauty would become the inspiration for Flower by Kenzo, the French brand’s signature fragrance.
A powdery floral scent composed by Alberto Morillas and launched in 2000, Flower by Kenzo has a warm, sensual character courtesy of rose, violet, vanilla and white musk. Pink peppercorn and incense add a lively zing that sets it apart from powder-heavy old-world perfumes. Its visual touchstone was the graceful, vivid red poppy flower. Its key concept: Make the world a more beautiful place.
Patrick Guedj, Kenzo Parfums’ artistic director who has created all the advertising campaigns for the fragrance, says: “In a Flower film, there’s always an aspect which is out of this world and fantastical. That’s important. At the same time, you have some real sensations, real people, real feelings – things which are genuine and authentic. I like the mix of these two aspects which usually don’t go together. It’s dreamy, poetic and true.”
Continuing at the helm, Guedj recently completed the fragrance’s latest campaign – set to be unveiled in mid-April – which features not only a new film but also a new face and vibe.
While the previous campaign starring Chinese supermodel Ming Xi veered towards the abstract and had a modern, graphic look, Guedj wanted the new edition to be more earthy, focusing on human emotions and a feel good buzz. “There was an old Flower campaign with Lika Minamoto which was shot on the rooftops of Paris. It was extremely successful and it showed people smiling and being together – a lot of life. So I thought it was interesting to go back to that kind of feeling,” he says.
The new campaign also has to be current and relevant to the times. “We need to be aware of the changes in society and to work them in. We thought it was important for the woman this time to be a little less soft and gentle, more in action. If you look at the campaign from a few years ago, the woman was watching the world rather than making the world move. But in this latest one, you can feel the woman is very determined and strong,” says Guedj.
To embody this more assertive and purposeful Flower woman, the brand chose 28-year-old actress Kim Tae Ri. One of South Korea’s most promising young stars, she shot to fame as the lead in auteur Park Chan Wook’s acclaimed The Handmaiden – a role she beat 1,500 other candidates to land. Her performance in that film (her debut feature) left a deep impression on Guedj, who made her his top pick for the fragrance’s new face.
He says: “She looks so young and baby-faced, very nice and cute, but she actually has a core of steel. I like that contrast in her. And the character she played in The Handmaiden was exactly like that too. Tae Ri’s got a very strong personality and she’s very feminine. She knows what she wants and what she’s doing. She had so many questions about the character in the Flower film – she wanted to understand everything, to be sure about everything.”
For Kim, the mix of opposites is also what she finds most alluring about Flower. “I think the poppy has very contrasting qualities because it has a very thin, frail stem that is actually the life force supporting the bright, dominant flower. Similarly, the fragrance can smell very girlish one moment and very feminine and grown-up the next. Having all these contrasting aspects combined in a scent is what appeals to me,” she says.
Shot in San Francisco, the new campaign film sees Kim striding through a multicultural neighbourhood to the tune of British singer Tom McRae’s What a Way to Win a War. At the end, she stops directly below a giant red bubble floating in mid-air, which bursts open to release countless red poppies. The overall effect is part oldschool Western, part Tim Burton fantasy.
“I think the character I portray is kind of heroic. She has this power to touch a world that is hardening and has this wonderful, amazing energy that she spreads to the people around her. She’s a very confident, strong woman. I think that was what they were looking for during the audition, and they saw those qualities in me,” says Kim.
An upbeat heroine was certainly what Guedj had in mind too. “When I was looking into this concept of a woman with determination, I thought it would be nice to do it in a smiley way, not too seriously, and with a bit of irony. I didn’t want her to be harsh. I liked the idea of her as a cowboy woman walking through town. The music helps to convey that, and there’s a bit of Tarantino as well.”
The campaign’s strong sense of optimism is an echo of the idealistic spirit captured in Riboud’s photograph all those years ago. Kim herself feels it keenly. “For me, this particular fragrance has the power to raise expectations of what’s to come. Every time I smell it, I feel as if something is opening up to me, and that fills me with anticipation. It’s a feeling of hopefulness,” she says.
As for Guedj, though he may have swopped the dreamy romanticism of past campaigns for a more grounded, authentic style this time, it doesn’t mean he has chucked the poppy-tinted glasses with which he views the world. “There are so many bad things happening, and we want to fight back by showing all these different races and kinds of people being happy together. I like that the film has a scene of two people kissing. It’s a good way to say to the world that we can have something beautiful, something without weapons.
It’s a bit naive, but I think it’s nice.” What a way to win a war, indeed.
“We thought it was important for the woman this time to be less soft and gentle, more in action.”
“She looks so young and baby-faced, but she actually has a core of steel.”
“Every time I smell it I feel as if something is opening up to me, and that fills me with anticipation.”