It was Thursday night inside The Underground Museum.
With an unassuming front and no signage, on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles’ Arlington Heights, it’s easy to miss the art space.
“I’m here all the time,” said Grey's Anatomy actor and activist Jesse Williams. “It’s really a tremendous new fixture in the community, powerful shows and programming, and they donate the space for a lot of really wonderful causes.” On this occasion, the space was hosting Kenzo.
“It’s the perfect place to experience this film for us, feels good,” said creative director Humberto Leon, who, alongside co-designer Carol Lim, threw a premiere party to present their spring/summer 2017 campaign film, “Music is my Mistress,” directed by Kahlil Joseph (the man behind Beyoncé’s Lemonade and whose brother, the late artist Noah Davis, founded the space, which is now overseen by Kahlil, Noah’s widow, Karon, and director Megan Steinman.)
“It’s an extension of the idea for the collection, which was about freedom of expression,” said Leon in the museum’s exhibit space. “Being able to escape through dance. That’s where we started with Kahlil, and then he took it into his own realm.”
“Kahlil is a friend of mine, and he approached me about doing it, and I was like absolutely, without really knowing anything about it,” said Williams, who stars in the film with recent Golden Globe-winning actress Tracee Ellis Ross and musicians Kelsey Lu and Ishmael Butler, better known as Ish. “Kahlil really paints with a broad brush, giving you a sense of the world that you’re going to be creating and then uses a lot of ad lib, him throwing stuff at you on the fly, so it’s not a highly scripted experience, not very preplanned in terms of every syllable.”
The crowd, diverse creatives from artists to industry players—Spike Jonze, Karen O, Sasha Lane, Alia Shawkat, Élodie Bouchez, George Lewis Jr. of Twin Shadow, Grace Gummer, Ali Wong—roamed around the space taking in the art and small, subtle performances showcased throughout.
"This just became Coachella instantly,” remarked a guest of the setup outside. Large rugs, cushions, poufs and pillows were laid out on the grass amid candlelight. They sat, they lounged, wrapped in Kenzo blankets (the night’s coveted goody bag item), as small bites were passed around; some chose to stand around a large fire pit nook, others danced to the throbbing hip-hop beats of DJ P. Morris.
But soon, silence took over, as Lim briefly introduced the cast (Ross was MIA) and short, which was shot in L.A. in two days. When it ended, Kelsey Lu took the stage, barefoot, cello in hand, hypnotizing the audience with her compelling voice.
“Those pipes!” exclaimed a guest, following the presentation. “The whole thing was like an abstract painting.”
“The way Kahlil shows the relationship between a soundstage with music and dialogue and spinning traditional narrative on its head, it’s a very fluid experience,” said Williams. It was his first time seeing the film. “I felt like that shooting it, and I saw that on screen today.”
Williams portrays the role of a music manager trying to find Gamma, a respected artist played by Butler, who’s hard to track down. The only one who knows is a mysterious cellist, embodied by Lu. They all connect in a safe house of sorts, a large property where resides Princess, an “African luminary and dissident,” played by Ross.
The short, the fourth in a series of films commissioned by Kenzo, brought many laughs, and while the filmmaker chose to let the work speak for itself, the release describes it as “a trailer wrapped in a music video inside a short film. It’s a comedy subverting its own seriousness.”
“Something that I think Kahlil does really beautifully is he creates these patterns of our ancestors, and I think that’s why we connect so deeply to his films,” said 18-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg. “It’s so textured, so multidimensional that it really hits you.”
The young actress is never one to shy away from expressing her views. Her take on the role fashion plays in politics, the growing narrative within the industry these days?
“Fashion is an expression of culture, expression of identity itself,” she said. “Sometimes, it can be political just to be comfortable in your own skin and expressing yourself.”
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