Having started his career as a fine art photographer and gone on to direct music videos, a feature-length documentary, and even design stage shows, David LaChapelle is something of a jack-of-all-trades in the creative world, with his eye-catching and often outrageous aesthetic serving as a point of connection through all of his artistic endeavors. When it comes to his work, expect the unexpected, which perhaps makes him an unusual choice for Happy Socks, a Scandinavian sock brand that approached LaChapelle and commissioned him to photograph a campaing and make an advertisement for their product, with predictably unusual results.
Started in Sweden by Mikael Söderlindh and Viktor Tell back in 2008, Happy Socks has gone on to sell 15 to 20 million of their spirited, colorful designs. The duo behind the company reached out to LaChapelle to make a film featuring their socks, giving him carte blanche. Entitled "Exorsocks," the nine-minute short (that you can view below) begins with a prostitute (Katie Johnson) stuck living in a scummy motel with her badgering mother (Melody Johnson) who is magically transformed as soon as she puts on a pair of Happy Socks. In a twist on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Red Shoes," she finds herself unable to stop moving her feet, dancing wildly as she makes her way around a brightly-colored downtown Los Angeles. Her wild and frenetic spirit is unable to be broken, even by her legs eventually getting amputated by a train, a moment captured as grotesquely tongue-in-cheek. Needless to say, LaChapelle has gone against the traditional expectations associated with advertising, concocting a bizarre and delirious fever dream all out of the impetus of showcasing socks.
Ahead of the short film's online release, Happy Socks held a preview screening of "Exorsocks," followed by a Q&A session featuring Söderlindh and Tell, the film's choreographer and co-director John Byrne as well as star Katie Johnson. Below is a roundup of highlights from their discussion.
Byrne on the creative freedom the project afforded them:
"The funny thing is, we were so happy to have Michael and Victor, because when most of the clients come to David, it's very calculated, especially with any kind of commercial venture. So, the night before we were gonna do the shoot... So they came to us, and they said, 'Let's do a behind the scenes thing.' And we're like, 'Nobody watches behind the scenes, but we'll take the money for it.' We wanted to do something cool because they're cool, so let's do like a little featurette. When David's inspired to do something, he'll just do it."
Tell on how their brand approaches collaborations:
"I think it was a great part when they actually presented the idea for us, and they were a little nervous to present this idea of what was going to go on. They were not aware of our way of letting anybody that we work with be as creative and do whatever they want with our brand and their perception of us, and that's our way of working instead of working with strategies and stuff that we don't like... The way we thought about it is, 'We don't have to do these bullshit advertisements.' You can do whatever you want with our advertising, and they're still good products."
Johnson on her experience making "Exorsocks:"
"I got a call from John and David, and they said, 'Do you wanna come out and play?' Which is how all my projects with John and David start, and I end up naked [laughs]. It happens. I actually came out to Los Angeles to go to film school, actually, at USC for their screenwriting program. But I got tangled up with these guys, and David asked to take some pictures of me, and I said, 'Okay.' I kind of got roped into more of the art scene and the art world and I loved it, and I love to come out and play and participate and make good art, and if I can be a part of that on either side of the camera, I love it. I've learned that when I get that call from David, you check your inhibitions and ego at the door, and you walk in and become the canvas that he creates on, and it's an honor and a pleasure."
Tell on whether Happy Socks continue these creative collaborations:
"Yeah, because this is one of the perks of our company that we like; we can collaborate with all these people, and it's awesome. We're very open for it... That's the fun part with our product and our brand, that we can collaborate in any direction that we want, that's the fun part of it."
You can view "Exorsocks," as well as an interview with LaChapelle and a behind-the-scenes featurette, on the Happy Socks website.