Holt Renfrew’s Spring 2021 campaign video opens with a dream-like instrumental playing over a close-up of Jordan Alexander’s eyes trained softly on the camera. We cut to a view of Jordan poised sculpturally on a plinth against a neutral background, as she sings the openings lines to the Bruce Cockburn song, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”. The contemplative mood of the video spills out into a riot of colour and movement when the drum beat kicks in, jump cuts flash between scenes of dancers rising up against blossom backgrounds, body-popping, urban scenes, and Jordan sitting in a bomber jacket and trackpants against a shifting background of Spring colours — belting out the familiar song as we’ve never heard it before. It’s obsessively watchable.
Beyond the pure aesthetic pleasure of the visuals, and the irresistible playability of Jordan’s rendition of the classic ballad, there is a poignancy to the work that seems to speak directly to our current moment. The lyrics of the song, though at times melancholic, are made defiantly joyful in Jordan’s remake — an upbeat and infectious ode to the beauty of it all. Art Director, Jessica Diaz, says that the starting point for the campaign was a sense of what Holts’ customers and community might be feeling as they came out of the upheavals of 2020, and what kind of voices they want to see amplified as we start to build back (hopefully) better. ‘Jordan Alexander doesn’t categorise herself into any one definition, she truly does embody multiple things’
Jordan Alexander is certainly multi-talented. Encouraged into acting by her sister, the 27-year-old has been cast as one of the leads in the new iteration of Gossip Girl, which premieres later this year. She is also an accomplished singer-songwriter, whose most recent release, You, came out in 2020. But the reasons for approaching Jordan go beyond her many talents, it is also about representation. As Jessica Diaz insists ‘With Jordan, with the dancers, the creative team and crew, we wanted to represent our values of diversity and inclusion behind the lens, as well as in front of the lens’. It was also important to the team that Jordan is Canadian, in fact, every single person involved in the production — from the dancers, to the crew, to the creative team — is Canadian. Even down to the iconic Canadian song choice, produced by Canadian musician (and Jordan’s long-time friend) Haviah Mighty. This is important for a country with a relatively small population snugged next to the American superpower. As Manager of Content and Copywriting Matthew Biehl says, ‘We are a Canadian company. We’re very proud to be a Canadian company. We wanted to show that we don’t have to look outside of our borders to pull off something really incredible, really inspiring, something that people can connect with’. And pull it off they did, under some very challenging circumstances. Looking at the cool slickness and high production values of the video, you would never guess that the creative direction and production of the film was developed and executed almost entirely by an in-house team, chief among them Art Director Jessica Diaz, Director of Photography & Video Content Adrienne McDonnell, Director of Creative Content Marlene Neves, Manager of Content and Copywriting Matthew Biehl, and Producers Candis Baydak and Katie McDonald — together with external Producer Michael Seater, and with support from the wider Holts’ team.
And what’s more, the whole campaign — from recording the song, styling, the stills photography and the video shoot — had to be accomplished in just two consecutive 12-hour days while Jordan was in Toronto for the holidays, on break from filming Gossip Girl in New York City.
‘It was like military timing’ Adrienne McDonnell recalls, ‘on day one Jordan went to the recording studio and that was where she laid down the vocals. We had to do the fittings at the same time, so we rented a separate recording studio for the racks, and in between takes Jordan would go in and work with our stylist to select her looks for the shoot the next day. While that was going on, we were building the stills set, and in a separate studio we were building the video set, which included a huge circular rig for lighting that was programmed to sync with the audio. On day two Jordan had eight hours at the photography studio to shoot all the stills for the campaign, and then at three pm I personally picked her up in my car and brought her to the video studio. Every single cut of Jordan in that music video was accomplished in under three hours.’ Just listening to the breakneck speed of the production is enough to make you breathless, but the team couldn’t say enough good things about working with Jordan. As Jessica Diaz recalls ‘She was really collaborative, really calm, and super excited. I remember when she got into the hair and make-up chair, she was just full of energy and couldn’t wait to get started. And she was really vibing with everyone on set, which was great because I think it made her feel really relaxed and allowed her to be her authentic self in front of the camera’.
That energy really comes through in the work, there is something so exuberant and genuine about the entire campaign that can’t be manufactured, that only comes when the stars align and everyone on set — from the creative team to the talent to the production crew — is given the space to voice their creative vision. And the response to the launch of the campaign confirmed that something really special had taken place in those two short days, as Marlene Neves recalls ‘I don’t think even Jordan realised how big it was going to be until it launched, the feedback was just so amazing, from the brands, the press, I think everyone was surprised’. After all, that is what the Holts’ Spring 2021 Campaign is all about, the power of self-expression to inspire and enliven, and to highlight the positive potential of creative work in all its variety.
Watch the official behind the scenes film and interview with Jordan Alexander below: