Few pieces of clothing hold the kind of iconic status enjoyed by Burberry’s heritage trench coat. Since its invention by Thomas Burberry in 1879, the trench has been worn by everyone,from the British Army and Sir Ernest Shackleton, to Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen, to Kate Moss and Alexa Chung. Now, the classic coat has spawned its own scent, the aptly-named Mr. Burberry, created by crack duo Christopher Bailey and acclaimed perfumer Francis Kurkdjian.
Described by the brand as a “sensual herbal woody fragrance”, Mr. Burberry incorporates top notes of grapefruit, tarragon and cardamon with heavier undertones of cedar wood, sandalwood and guaiac wood. To bring the smell of Mr. Burberry to life, Burberry enlisted the talents of one of Britain’s top directors, Turner-prize winning artist and Oscar-winning filmmaker, Steve McQueen. Wonderland met up with the campaign’s co-stars modern polymaths Josh Whitehouse and Amber Anderson in a unseasonably icy Regent’s Park to talk about life beneath Burberry’s gilded wing.
Wonderland: So you starred together in the Mr Burberry TV campaign. Can you take me through the story of the advert?
Josh: It’s kind of supposed to be a tale of two lovers but it’s kind of nondescript…
Amber: It’s a snapshot on two people who are very much in love and are spending a weekend together in a hotel in London. But the idea was Steve didn’t want [the viewer] to know how much time they were spending in there, or what time of day it was, or how long they’ve been together.
W: You and Josh met before you shot the campaign though?
A: We met for a coffee about three weeks before with Steve. And just kind of talked —
J: — A little brief down coffee.
W: You seem quite good friends now.
J: Yeah we’re pals.
A: ish — I mean he’s —
J: She’s a bit of a nightmare, she’s always stealing camera space — A: He’s just such a prima donna.
W: Why do you think you were both chosen for the campaign? J: Because we can handle the cold! Burberry has a long history of working with artists and musicians, actors. Apparently I’m one of those annoying guys that does all of them.
A: Me too. I studied music, Josh is a musician, we both act, we both done bits of modelling. So maybe we represent that kind of person. I did my first fashion campaign with them when I was 19. So I had kind of already been a part of the family anyway. But I was really, really flattered to be asked to be a part of this one cause it’s the first time they’ve worked with a film director and Steve had never done a beauty thing before. So it’s quite a big, exciting thing for everyone and so I think I felt very lucky to be asked for it.
W: Was it intimidating to work with Steve McQueen?
J: It was intimidating, in principle, in my brain, but actually once on set… It was really calm.
A: We had three days, so it was nice. We all got to hang out together, and it was just quite fun really. And he had a very clear idea what he wanted for the shots, but because there wasn’t any dialogue it was quite nice, because it’s all about the dynamic between us.
J: The fact that there was no dialogue meant that you were playing around with the characters much more with the way you behave with somebody, with your eyes, with your feelings, emotions, but not so much doing an accent or a walk.
W: What is the difference between acting and modelling?
A: Since I was quite young I’ve always done both so I felt like I had to learn quite young how to flip through the two. And think there is quite a big difference between them in the sense that with modelling you have to have a lot of self-awareness in terms of your body and how you look in terms of you being in front a camera. Whereas to act, you kind of have to forget that there’s a camera on you and so I felt like I learnt pretty young how to take that jacket off so to speak. Modelling jacket.
J: I did modelling at a very young age for an agency for a little bit.And I was never the biggest fan of that whole being very rigid about things. And actually got into acting through being scouted from doing my gig with my band and that ending up with winding into acting. Music and acting are completely different worlds. Acting you have to be able to be to be very sort of free but within a character. Music’s so personal I guess, that’s the main difference for me. Acting is always inside someone else’s head.
W: How do you get into someone else’s head then?
J: Research. Research and practice. Say if they’re a dancer, say for instance they have obsessions or they have smells. Just anything you can get a hold of.
A: I know actors who have a perfume for each film they do —
J: Yeah, I’ve heard about this.
A: I create playlists for every character.
W: What’s on the playlist for these characters?
J: Burberry acoustic channel.
A: Obviously. Actually Benjamin Clementine did the song for the ad and he’s incredible and I’ve been listening to a lot of his music.
W: Apart from Mr. Burberry, what are your favourite smells?
J: For me, I’d say oil, paint, turps, and varnishes. Because when I was much younger, my mum used to paint a lot with oil and canvases, I used to always want to burrow her materials to be able to do some paintings and things like that. So for me, a nostalgic smell is fresh varnish, or turps, or oil paints, things like that.
A: My Godmother makes her own perfume — just with the oils and some kind of mixing agent — Jasmine and tuberose. So whenever I smell jasmine or tuberose now it takes me back to being four again. Think that’s one for me. And also my mum when I was younger cooked a lot of Indian food and burnt a lot of incense, so whenever I smell that kind of spicy, woody thing, it reminds me of my mum.
W: And what will the smell of Mr. Burberry remind you of?
J: I think the most exciting time of my life… I won’t forget it.
W: It must be a lot of fun to work with Burberry alongside each other.
A: We said that when we met. I remember when we had coffee and Josh turned to me and said something at the end like “God, we’re going to go on quite a journey together.”
J: It was a moment of realisation. “Oh, I see we’re going to go through some stuff ”.
A: Now here we are in a park.
J: Going through some stuff.