hough it was her first time in Asia, Vivienne Rohner had little time to play the tourist. The Swiss model and new Chanel muse headed straight to work the morning after she arrived in Hong Kong. The 12-hour photo shoot, which took place on a set riddled with conversations in three different languages, was one of the highlights of her trip. On a custom-made set teeming with the romance of old Hong Kong films, the alluring Vivienne transforms into a timeless leading lady under the lens of the equally young and talented Chinese photographer, Leslie Zhang.
This is your first time in Hong Kong, how do you feel about the city?
It is my very first time in Asia. The only little taste that I’ve had [of Asia] is Chinatown in New York, where I live. Although I basically arrived yesterday, I already know that I love Hong Kong. This morning I went on a little sightseeing trip, and I’m very grateful that Hong Kong was my very first trip to Asia. I’m just amazed by how friendly and hospitable people are; it reminds me of my home country, Switzerland. Unfortunately, my trip is very short so I am definitely going to come back — maybe with my boyfriend. We’ll go into all the shops I drove past this morning; I saw so many places I wanted to take pictures of or walk into and look around! I saw a shop that sells vintage glasses — which I’m a big fan of.
What was it like working with Leslie Zhang for the first time?
I told Leslie, “I wish we could shoot together every day!” He directed me calmly but never told me exactly what to do. We understood each other without needing to say much. He was so sure of himself and was constantly trying new things. He’s not a man of many words, yet he was able to foster an environment where everyone was working towards the same goal. The set designers, too, bravo to them. It was such a treat working with him yesterday; it was a total dedication to art, and you don’t really see that anymore.
You have worked with many renowned photographers, Inez & Vinoodh, David Sims, and so on. How do you strike a balance between your own artistic expression and the photographer’s vision?
It’s all about communication. The first thing I do with every single shoot, even if I’ve already received a mood board, is to sit down with the photographer and get a sense of how much I can contribute. If people are unsure about the direction, I try to bring forward my own ideas. Generally, communication is key in life. It is teamwork at the end of the day, and we all need to work towards the same goal. Even though I started modelling when I was 16, I feel like my career really began when I met Inez & Vinoodh. When Virginie took over Chanel, they started working together, and Inez introduced me. Inez & Vinoodh are my neighbours in New York, and we continue to shoot together — they are like family to me.
How do you keep yourself grounded in such a fast-paced industry?
Something was telling me I had to leave Switzerland because I wanted something greater, but not necessarily modelling— that was never really my dream. It just happened and I eventually fell in love with it. But that is just one part of my life. My number one priority in life will always be my family, my friends, and myself. Only when you’re happy and content with yourself can you give love to others. I also just bought a car. That was my biggest dream since I was 16— to own an American muscle car— and this year, it came true! I wanted to do more things for myself, and the car was something I worked hard for. It’s also just about having quality time. Spending time with my boyfriend, who travels a lot, driving and walking around the city. I walk my dog two hours a day, maybe more. It’s the little things. Or just doing nothing, too, having no schedule and no obligations. I’m a very simple, uncomplicated person.
Any particularly memorable moments collaborating with Chanel?
I met Karl; I walked his show when I was 17, but the funny thing is nobody remembers that. So I’ve only worked with Virginie, really. It is a privilege to work with Chanel, especially now that I’ve witnessed the making of their clothes. Last year, they invited me to the ateliers in Paris when they were working on the haute couture collection. They asked me to take pictures of the seamstresses and all the behind-the-scenes production. Virginie puts so much thought into each and every collection, and I feel very humbled to walk her shows. I’ll find my name on the rack each time I go backstage because she knows exactly which looks are for which model. Virginie considers each girl and her characteristics, who the “Chanel woman” is, and finds a way to reflect both in the styling. Underneath all of the strength, there is this ineffable calmness about Virginie, an extremely unique vision, and so much warmth, generosity, and integrity. You can feel how much love she has for craftsmanship. She has reinvented Chanel with simplicity, ease, and allure.
What draws you to Chanel? How do you interpret “The Allure of Chanel”?
To me, “allure” is a very French word, but it is a global phenomenon. You cannot buy it, you cannot build it. It’s a feeling, it’s confidence. It’s the way you carry yourself, all the little details. At the end of the day, clothes are meant to be worn. Even though they are precious, these clothes are not just for red carpets or specific events. When I first got my classic Chanel bag, I was so scared to wear it, thinking,”What if I scratch it?” But it is meant to be used, leave traces of life and become a part of our everyday. Clothes are what we make of it.
Photography: Leslie Zhang
Fashion Direction & Executive Producer: Sean Kunjambu
Editorial Consultant: Adam Chen
Producer: Katherine Ho
Makeup Artist: Yooyo Keong Ming
Hair Stylist: Nate Peng
Manicurist: Pinky Ho
Set Designer: Ip Siu
Photography Assistants: Wu You & Liao Zining
Hair Stylist Assistant: Fan Tongjun
Set Designer Assistant: Joan Leung
Fashion Assistant: Pianca Ngan
Production Assistant: Echo Yuan Art Team: Cat Wong, Kumi Tong, Caster So, Naomi, Jonas Fong & Judy Poon
Retouching: Li Huiwan
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