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A few years back, Lily Cole made plans with a childhood friend to travel by rail across Canada. The two ladies decided a good way to wile the time away on the long trek across the territorial tracks would bring along a chessboard. The thing was, neither friend had a rook to their name, so they decided to craft a set. Cole’s friend crafted the board, and each was responsible for bringing half of the pieces.
“And we didn’t tell each other what the other halves would look like,” said the actress-model in an interview during Art Basel Miami Beach in December. “I was in Big Sur in California, and I found a carpentry box, and it had a penknife. I very crudely carved all the back pieces. For the pawns, I cheated and got incense cones. She made her side with black-and-white images on gold, and she put [artist Marcel] Duchamp as the king.”
In December 2013, Cole was tapped as the face of G-Star RAW’s new ad campaign. In the TV spot and print campaign, Cole and Magnus Carlsen—the highest-ranking chess player in history (it’s true; look it up)—play a game of mystical life-sized chess. In an interview over email, Shubhankar Ray, the Global Brand Director of G-Star Raw, describes the concept behind the campaign as centering on “rethinking” things.
“Chess symbolizes the game of life,” said Ray, “and is the mother of all mind-games, which involves a lot of ‘rethinking.’ The campaign reinforces G-Star as modern, innovative, and unexpected.”
G-Star has built a reputation on the unexpected, throwing curveballs on a regular basis. Cole, for instance, has recently put modeling on the backburner for acting—notable films include Tim Burton’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Mary Harron’s The Moth Diaries, and the upcoming Sarah Silverman vehicle Gravy—and philanthropic ventures such as her pay-it-forward initiative Impossible.com with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. G-Star coaxed her into the campaign with their commitment to environmental practices, and the unique team consisting of filmmaker Shueti, and photographer Phil Hale.
“I don’t think I’ve seen much collage advertising before,” said Cole, about Hale’s fragmented style of photocollage, “so it’s quite a subverted idea of advertising, which I quite like. You can hardly tell it’s me. It was three days of shooting in Amsterdam, and a lot of jumping on trampolines and [riding] on horses.”
G-Star RAW has consistently trotted out unconventional marketing concepts since the company was founded in Amsterdam in 1989 by Jos van Tilburg, and has since grown into a major player on the global urban-wear market, with over a $1 billion in sales. Their recent collaboration with legendary camera manufacturer Leica is just one in a long line of brand “crossovers” that has birthed everything from a special edition SUV with Land Rover, to a durable military flask with Hennessey, to an inspired series of reimagined classic Prouvé furniture done in collaboration with Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra and the Prouvé family.
Even their campaign faces and collaborators come from a left-field sensibility, one that champions artistry and skill as much as beauty. Carlsen and Cole were preceded by ballet star Keenan Kampa, actor and filmmaker Vincent Gallo, and acclaimed actress Clémence Poésy. Their collaborations with Shueti, Anton Corbijn, Rankin, and industrial designer Marc Newson hint at a dedication to promoting creativity in a deeply involved way that most brands wish they could achieve.
It all boils down to the nature of the clothes. The wearer of a pair of G-Star RAW jeans emanates dexterity and ruggedness. “I’ve done more high fashion stuff before, so it had an urban-ness to it that I was interested in doing,” said Cole. “To the point of sustainable production, too. I did look into their CSR and they’re really trying to lead the way in denim’s impact and responsible production.”
In a recent review of a G-Star runway show during New York Fashion Week, The L.A. Times described the brand as having a “signature military-industrial-aviator aesthetic—chunky leather and denim straps and holsters, flight suit flourishes, rivets and buckles on denim fabrics.” The nuance of the detailing that goes into a G-Star piece is what makes the clothes unique, wearable garments. And the brand prides itself on the use of new innovations in denim.
When asked what innovations G-Star was bringing to the table for their 2014 spring collection that Cole and Carlsen will be the faces of, Ray pointed out 3-D design silhouettes. “The Type C is a new denim and the most unrestrained cut in the 3-D denim line with an extremely tapered fit and elongated back pockets. It is a bow-leg silhouette inspired by worker and navy pants with a low crotch for both men and women, and it continues or innovation within the best-selling 3-D styles like Elwood, Arc, and A-Crotch. Also, the spring/summer 2014 collection of G-Star by Marc Newson uses premium denim fabrics like herringbone denim and marble gray raw denim, creating a sweat fabric look but with rigid denim feel and durability.”
This all culminates in “The Art of RAW,” G-Star RAW’s ongoing campaign that highlights their commitment to creative endeavors. “Both Lily Cole and Magnus Carlsen are real characters and embody real talent,” said Ray. “We admire Lily as a confident, in-control, and elegant woman who matches G-Star’s brand DNA. [She] is a raw, unconventional beauty with a defiant attitude, who is a multi-talent—from model to actress to social entrepreneur to activist. To us, creativity comes from combining elements that do not seem to fit together. Magnus exemplifies this as he looks tough and not like a typical chess player. Chess players are not conventionally cool!”