Cover 21-year-old Lean Lui was hand-picked to shoot Dior's Global Cruise Campaign (Photo: Courtesy of Christian Dior)

21-year-old Hong Kong photographer Lean Lui is the first Asian photographer to work with the house of Christian Dior on a global campaign

Few photographers, no matter how talented, get the opportunity to work with a luxury fashion house in their careers, especially at the young age of 21. But a chance discovery led Christian Dior's creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri to fall in love with Hong Kong photographer Lean Lui's work last year and she began envisioning a collaboration.

"The work and sensitivity of this budding artist really struck me; she represents a new generation of photographers who are dismantling the stereotypes of female photography and I wanted to promote that," said Grazia Chiuri in a statement. Lui was then invited to interpret the French maison's cruise 2021 collection in her cinematic style, which resulted in a series of romantic images depicting models like nymphs gracefully lounging in lace and long skirts against the wild landscape of Puglia. We catch up with the emerging talent on the experience. 

When and how did you first discover your passion for photography?

At the early age of 10, I was obsessed with reality TV modelling shows and started taking pictures with my family. Later, I used it to express my feeling towards bullying at school and my work got noticed by some art platforms from different countries.

How did you come to work with Dior?

An editor spotted me in a news feature about the Three-Shadow Photography Awards. She recommended me to Dior, and Maria Grazia Chiuri loved my style and asked me to have a shoot with her daughter Rachele. Afterwards, Dior invited me to shoot for Dior Magazine, followed by an appearance on Dior Talks (podcast programme), and then most recently the Cruise advertising campaign. Maria Grazia told me that she picked me personally for this campaign because she loves the series I shot for Rachele, the atmosphere and how I interpret fashion.

Can you describe your experience shooting this campaign?

We experimented with different vibes, be it poetic, dramatic or cinematic. I didn’t regard it as a fashion shoot or commercial campaign but as an art creation. It is more "fierce" than my usual works. At first, the team was a bit worried that my style might be too abstract and artsy for a commercial campaign. For example, I always use super close-up and detailed shots, but in a campaign we need to mind the entire production as well.

Thankfully, it turned out perfect, and we were able to strike a balance. They loved my close-ups and the team even built me a pool, allowing me to dip the dresses into the water, and I got my favourite shot in this setting. The people I worked with were amazing. Fabien Baron, the art director, is very straight-shooting as I am. If he hates something, he will just voice it, and he knows what he wants, and has the highest standard. Dior took really good care of me as well, and really respected my feelings and creative freedom, and gave me a sense of confidence. We had the best in every industry, like Guido Palau for hair, Peter Philips for makeup and also the lighting and digital teams—this production showed me what it's like to perform at the highest level.

In what way do you feel Hong Kong can improve when it comes to supporting its local artists?

There's a lack of resources and respect for artists. I was often asked to work on many unpaid jobs and exhibitions, some even asking me to pay for the costs as well. It is ridiculous. It makes me feel like an artist’s time and labour don't mean anything.

What are you working on now?

My second photo book is coming up and I'm currently enjoying my time as a student at Central Saint Martins in London as I develop my creative skills.