It is a four-hour train ride from Yangon, the former capital of Burma, the country now referred to as Myanmar, followed by an arduous hour-long climb in a retrofitted dump truck, to Golden Rock, a 25-foot-high naturally formed granite boulder so impossibly perched on the edge of a mountain that the only logical explanation for its precarious existence is the Buddhist one. According to lore, a single strand of hair holds the hallowed rock, which is devotionally covered in layers of gold leaf, in place. For Tim Walker, a photographer known for his monumental fantasy-world sets, Myanmar was the ultimate stage for a shoot. “When they first saw the pictures, people asked if we had built the backgrounds,” he says. “But, in fact, they were beyond anything I could have even imagined.”
Walker and his team—the model Edie Campbell, the stylist Jacob K, the hairstylist Christiaan Houtenbos, and the makeup artist Sam Bryant—made the pilgrimage there in January, spending 10 days in a country that until recently was ruled by a repressive military junta and cut off from the rest of the world. What they found was a land so visually and philosophically far-out—at least from their Western perspective—that it conjured the trippy heroine of this story: Prudence Farrow, Mia’s “rather uptight and impossibly perfect Buddhist sister” as Walker describes her, who got lost in deep meditation while in India, thus inspiring the Beatles song “Dear Prudence.” Along her mystical tour of the country, Prudence, as played by Campbell, encounters Madame Thair, the wealthy owner of an antiques store in Yangon; members of the Kayan tribe, who are known for their neck-elongating jewelry; and a holy temple shaped like Humpty Dumpty.
Amid all the beauty and wonder, the crew also discovered a country that is very much set in its ways—even despite the recent opening of its borders. Women are not allowed to touch Golden Rock, nor are they permitted to stand above a certain height at sacred locations, such as Shwedagon Pagoda—what Walker refers to as the Sistine Chapel of Yangon. Campbell was required to crouch, lest she be too close to an elevated Buddha. “It may seem outdated to us, but it’s where the country is,” Walker says.
Many of the houses the team wanted to use as locations are owned by the military, which was reluctant to grant permission; and the concept of a fashion shoot is so foreign to the locals that enlisting their help was often an exercise in making lemonade. Walker asked for six nuns in traditional pink robes; one monk in orange turned up. Still, Walker says, he felt very welcome. “Nothing was too sacred for us Westerners,” he says. “They wanted to share and celebrate their culture. And that’s what this story ultimately is—a celebration of the country and its beauty.”
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda also known as the Golden Rock.
Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci dress, top, earrings, and sandals; Pebble London necklace; Orlebar Brown rope belt; Tabio socks; stylist’s own whistle necklace (throughout); all umbrellas from Bogyoke Aung San Market, Yangon, Burma.
Fendi dress; Edun trousers; Chanel backpack; draped fabric from Bogyoke Aung San Market.
Suno top; Edun trousers; Pebble London necklace; draped fabric from Bogyoke Aung San Market. Beauty note: Release your inner golden child with MAC Playland Pigment in Ever So Yellow.
Bottega Veneta shirt and miniskirt; Céline necklace; Hervé Van Der Straeten cuffs; longyi (worn as maxiskirt) from Bogyoke Aung San Market.
Nuns in Burma.
Madame Thair’s rambling antiques shop in Yangon is replete with porcelain pots, colonial furniture, and century-old silk sarongs. But her most prized possessions are the photographs of herself as a young woman.
Missoni top, shirt, and dress; Peter Som long-sleeve top; Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci earrings; longyi (around waist) from Bogyoke Aung San Market. Beauty note: Feel fabulously flush with Maybelline Master Hi-Light Blush in Pink Rose.
Emilio Pucci jumpsuit; Final Home jacket (on arms); Pebble London necklace; stylist’s own compass, and bag (worn at waist). Beauty note:Give dry skin a hand with Molton Brown Replenishing Hand Cream.
Rag & Bone top (underneath); Marni skirt and sandals; Alexis Bittar cuffs; Pebble London bracelets (on ankles); shirt, longyi (worn as maxiskirt), and belts from Bogyoke Aung San Market; stylist’s own rings (on toes).
Thomas Tait shirt; Narciso Rodriguez miniskirt; Céline necklace and sandals; Vicki Sarge cuffs; hat and longyi (worn as maxiskirt) from Bogyoke Aung San Market.
Dior top and skirt; (from top) Delfina Delettrez chokers; Céline necklace; jacket from Bogyoke Aung San Market.
Children outside of a temple.
The Row tops, skirt, and bag; Angels the Costumiers robe; Pebble London necklace; Tabio socks; Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci sandals. Beauty note: For protection as strong as a parasol, try Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50+.
This ovaid temple in Salay pays homage to the Buddhist symbol of perseverance: If an egg turns over, it will right itself back up again.
Derek Lam cropped top and pleated skirt; Yohji Yamamoto tank top and pants; Vicki Sarge neck piece, Delfina Delettrez chokers; (right and left wrists, from top) Céline bracelets, Mikuti bangles, Pebble London bangles; Vicki Sarge ankle cuff; Prada shoes; stylist’s own rings.
Not to be eclipsed by such man-made wonders, the local Kayan tribeswomen sport brass coils from the clavicle up starting at the age of 5.
Céline top and skirt; Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci earrings; (from top) Vicki Sarge neck piece, Céline necklace; (right hand, from top) Delfina Delettrez bracelet, Mikuti bangle, Vicki Sarge cuff, Mikuti bangle; (left hand, from top) Mikuti bangle, Vicki Sarge cuff, Mikuti bangle, Delfina Delettrez bracelet; Vicki Sarge knee and ankle bracelets; Prada socks and shoes.
Woman with orchids.
Balenciaga top; Céline skirt; Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci earrings; (from top) Balenciaga necklace, Delfina Delettrez choker, Céline necklace; Vicki Sarge knee and ankle bracelets; longyi (around waist) and belt from Bogyoke Aung San Market. Beauty note: Treat exposed limbs like porcelain with Uka Pepper Hand & Body Lotion.
Gucci jumpsuit and bra; Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci earrings; Prada socks; Céline sandals. Beauty note: Crimson lids? Done, with Make Up For Ever Blush Powder Scarlet No. 99.
Dolce & Gabbana dress; Alexander McQueen hat and choker; (right arm, from top) Alexander McQueen cuffs, Hervé Van Der Straeten cuff, Alexander McQueen cuffs; (left arm) Alexander McQueen cuffs; Bijules nail rings; Jennifer Fisher rings.
Hair by Christiaan; makeup by Sam Bryant at D+V Management. Model: Edie Campbell at DNA Model Management. Extras in neck pieces: Daw Mu Aung, Daw Mu Ju. Produced by Karina Moreton at Panoramic Journeys. Local fixer: Moe Aung. Photography assistant: Emma Dalzell. Fashion assistant: Clémence Lobert. Printed by Graeme Bulcraig at Touch. Special thanks to the Sandoway Resort, Ngapali, and Qatar Airways.
In an earlier version of this article, Myanmar was referred to as Burma. We have corrected the error and the change is reflected throughout.