Noted New York fashion designer Derek Lam wanted to create something unique to trumpet the launch of his Derek Lam 10 Crosby fragrance collection. So instead of hiring an ad agency to create a traditional TV or print campaign for his 10 distinct fragrances, he sniffed out filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the creative duo behind the Catfish documentary and subsequent hit MTV reality show of the same name.
Their assignment: Develop a series of short films that evoke the new line.
While best known for Catfish, the duo has also created ads for Google, Toyota and Nike, among others. They have made a number of short films for Vogue, too, including "Cover Girl" starring Lena Dunham and "Best Best Friends" starring Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss.
"Launching Derek Lam 10 Crosby, I was thinking of a new approach of how to explain my fragrances and my point of view on this collection, and that segued into the idea of how do I communicate that in a new way beyond just print advertising or conventional commercials," said Lam, who launched his women's clothing line in 2003 after working for Michael Kors, and has since rapidly expanded into footwear, handbags, accessories and more.
"I wanted to do something a little bit different," he said of launching his fragrance collection.
So, with Joost and Schulman on board as creative directors, four New York directors (Celia Rowlson-Hall, Benjamin Dickenson, Andrew Zuchero and Albert Moya) were commissioned create the 10 short films (representing each of the new fragrances). The directors were asked to tell the stories on film in two to four minutes. The only stipulation was that each shared a theme with one of the fragrances, such as Drunk On Youth, Something Wild, Rain Day, Hi-Fi and Blackout. They also had to be shot on or around 10 Crosby Street in trendy SoHo. That's where Lam's first design studio stood and gives the collection its name. He has since moved his operations to another trendy area of Manhattan called NoMad, but the 10 Crosby name remains.
"He would gaze out the window and watch all the chic girls walking down the street and imagine stories about them and where they were going, what they were up to, who they were in love with and what they were wearing," explained Schulman.
"We thought it was such a cool inspiration for this set of short films," added Joost. "We developed the world [of the short films] with him, and we sent the scripts to all the directors and they divvied them up. It all fell into place."
The films feature mostly 20-something actors in various storylines involving romance, celebration, adventure, surprise and human connections. Some of the stories and characters intertwine. For example, Jennifer Westfeldt, of "Kissing Jessica Stein" fame, plays a guest at a hotel who hands a $100 tip to the bellhop in one short, then pops up in another film where the viewer discovers why she is staying at the hotel.
Other actors featured in the films include Alia Shawkat ("Arrested Development"), Aya Cash ("You're the Worst"), Anthony Ramos ("Hamilton" on Broadway), Greta Lee ("Sisters") and actor/musician Dev Hynes, who also wrote an original song that is used in one of the shorts.
"The main idea was to buck the whole traditional images of fragrance advertising," Joost said. "None of the storylines are the bogus aspirational perfect-looking girl, perfect-looking guy on a yacht in crystal-clear water. It's more of a gritty city love story with an existential crisis along the lines of transparency."
Joost added that he and Schulman always have been drawn toward less traditional advertising in their commercial collaborations through their New York production company, Supermarche.
"What appealed to us about this was that Derek was almost like an old-school patron of the arts," he said. "These were like commissioned films; they didn't feel at all like commercials."
The product never appears in any of the short films and isn't even mentioned, he noted.
Asked whether he infused the short films with some of his previous projects like "Catfish" or the two "Paranormal Activity" movies he and Joost made (the series' third and fourth installments), Schulman said the connections were rather indirect.
"Not from our previous work, but a lot from our previous life," he added. "When we made Catfish, we had our studio downtown, and a lot of our friends had studios there where we had these intersecting lives. That inspired us. There's a life in downtown New York that doesn't exist anywhere else."
A minute-long teaser trailer premiered Jan. 28 at DerekLam.com and at Sephora.com, as well as on screens at Sephora stores, the fragrance retailer where the product will be available exclusively when it launches today.
"I just want people to enjoy the wit, the sensitivity and the beauty of the films, and not go, 'Oh, I get what's going on.' It's just me, Derek Lam, and Henry and Ariel's interpretation. It's all about creativity," said Lam.
The designer has no immediate plans to supplement the fragrance line with traditional advertising, but he hasn't ruled it out for the future.
"That's what's needed to explain as the collection grows but, at this moment, it's just fun to think different and call it communication," he said.