When Scottish designer Jonathan Saunders was named chief creative officer at American luxury house Diane von Furstenberg in May 2016, even he couldn't have predicted how quickly his stamp on the brand would take effect. "A lot of people are quite surprised at how much has changed in a short period of time," he tells Refinery29 exclusively. "We’re only at the beginning, a year in, and a lot has changed quite dramatically. Of course, Saunders means his injection of modern color, clashing of prints, and expert draping techniques he honed at his own eponymous firm, but also a rejigger of the label's branding, namely its logo, monogram, and brand colors.
Today marks another new chapter for the buzzy designer and the house, which unveils its first advertising campaign for fall 2017 under Saunders direction. Photographed by Oliver Hadlee Pearch and styled by Camille Bidault-Waddington, with art direction by Jonny Lu — he also collaborated on the aforementioned branding — Saunders and his cohorts pay tribute to DVF's home of New York City.
"New York is this brand’s home. Yes, it’s international, yes, travel is so important to this brand, but New York is its home," he says. Not to mention, "New York has always been an inspiration to me," Saunders continues. "I’ve always been inspired by the time in New York in the ‘70s where Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, all these incredibly cool, incredibly creative people made such beautiful and extensive bodies of work within this city."
Fittingly, Saunders captures his dizzy prints — leopard, florals — and major furs on models Luna Bijl, Yoon Young Bae, Angok Mayen, and Cara Taylor amongst real New Yorkers in Harlem, Tompkins Square Park, and Liberty Island. "The people that the girls interacted with were kids that were dancing in the streets in Harlem and these beautiful boys, who we met on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, all these real people in New York that symbolize to me what is so brilliant about this city."
To see the collection as Saunders intended — in action — he also unveiled an energetic video set to the words of Rachel Kang's poetry. Bijl, for one is seen dancing and laughing, as the following composition is played overhead:
"I make myself in my own image/ bursting into the noon day hearts exploding to ribbons skipping into traffic on steam clouds/ cars and bicycle bells people with dogs that smell funny rich babies and exotic nannies stack like cards pigeons roosting in the crevices between elbows and eyes throw feathers over the ledge/ I would like to be colored in with crayons and kid sounds knitted into my park bench purled around the twenty wisdoms I know of the curve of my lip and your index finger/ to be stripes twisting like my arm around your arm turning a basic step into a cascade of chess pieces across the floor/ for what I dare to dream is the woman I will become."
"The poem talks about being a woman, and our girl is creatively inspired by what’s around her," explains Saunders. "She likes to express herself through her clothes and it is about this girl being totally free." As for the seemingly important theme of inclusivity that runs throughout the campaign — model Mayen is a single mother refugee from Sudan, for instance — Saunders simply says, "I don’t see this brand as an elitist brand, it can still appreciate a designer hand and it can still be beautifully executed and aspirational without being snobbish. That's what this brand, this city means to me." Spoken like true New Yorker.