Photographer Alexandra Leese’s first foray into global fashion campaigns was with Helmut Lang for the designer’s taxi capsule collection. She shot a series of portraits of taxi drivers in Hong Kong, showcasing their world and in it creating a street portrait style unique in its raw ability to fuse fashion, real people and convey the irreverent essence of a brand. With the campaign’s success, Alexandra realised that shooting real people and showcasing their stories in an inspiring and positive way was something that really resonated with viewers. A far cry from your stereotypical fashion campaign or shoot of otherworldly models and dreamy, hazy aesthetics – Alexandra’s work is bold, rich and celebratory of real communities.
Off the back of the global taxi capsule collection’s campaign success, Alexandra and her team, director Luke Casey and stylist Charlotte James, began conceptualising the next campaign for Helmut Lang. “Wales seemed the perfect choice as Luke, the director who I worked with on the taxi campaign, and Charlotte, the stylist and casting director both have Welsh roots. Wales is a beautiful place with a rich yet under-appreciated culture and I thought it deserved some airtime!” The campaign, entitled Women of Wales looked to shine some light on a unique community of women, and, most importantly, “to show that style and passion isn’t restricted to youth,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I wanted to celebrate women of an age that is often bypassed in the mainstream media.”
The Welsh nans are, in Alexandra’s words, “elegant, original, full of character and strength.” The campaign sees them dressed to the nines in Helmut Lang’s collection and discussing their style and community in a series of films shot in and around where they live. Sassy, bold and utterly likeable – these Welsh women convey a joi de vivre and a kick of personality that the typical campaign cast model may lack. “We aimed to find women who stood for something and had a story to tell, which would inspire people and put a smile on their faces,” Alexandra tells us. True to their goal, the stills and short films for the campaign both delight and ignite positivity in the viewer, and certainly upped our levels of inner sass.
Working on the films with longtime collaborator Luke, Alexandra explains: “we tend to do things in a very lo-fi and spontaneous way, and I think it works well with the more documentary type pieces we have done, at the time you don’t really know what’s going to happen, what the location or person is going to be like. "Naturally, the time spent with the Welsh nan’s was as belly-ache inducing entertaining as character-inspiring. “I think one of the funnier moments was when we met all the nan’s and grandkids at the Merthyr labour club,” she smiles, launching into a story from her time in Wales. “We had just sat down to take a break and have a drink when I met Leo (the kid in the photo with the blue suit) by the bar. He was listening to rap music and flossing. I thought he was such a character, so I just started talking to him, and before we knew it we were shooting him and his friends with all their Nan’s outside, one after the other. It was totally unplanned and hectic but it was a great laugh.”
So what’s it like working for a major fashion brand like Helmut Lang, we ask? ”Since the get-go, they have been very trusting and supportive. They believe in my work, and my ideas, and the freedom they give because of that, allows me to push myself and also stay true to what I love — people, their stories, identities and culture. I am grateful for the relationship we have.”