For a brand trying to highlight the fact pearls have moved on from being an old-fashioned Stepford Wives staple – thanks in large part to mainstream brands like Gucci, Miu Miu and Chanel weaving them into cool street pieces over the past few seasons – referencing a classical painting for its new advertising campaign might have been a risky move.

But when the photographer is the queen of Australian millennial fashion creatives, Margaret Zhang, and the model one of our most edgy exports, the results were always going to be spectacular.

Zhang, who also shot GRAZIA’s recent relaunched print edition cover earlier this year, captured Alexandra Agoston in their adopted home city of New York, to celebrate the launch of Kailis’ 2017 collection, an art deco-inspired set of six pieces called Charleston. And the reference to the classical painting mentioned in the headline is clear to see.

The third talent tapped for the campaign was artist and model Anh Duong. The New Yorker, who is best known for her visual diary-like portraits, including ones taken of herself, looks uncannily like she could be Agoston’s relation, a move no doubt to hint at the versatility of pearls and their traditional mother-to-daughter appeal. We spoke to Zhang during a recent return to Australia about the campaign and working with such striking talent, plus her take on pearls for the modern girl.


Can you talk about the resurgence of pearls in high fashion for a younger generation? It’s a combination of Alessandro Michele at Gucci’s drive for maximalism and renaissance accessories, which inherently brings a lot of gems and pearls back in the game, and a shift in the minimalist camp from harsh geometry to more organic shapes, which is also very pearl-conducive.


Why was Alexandra the ideal face for this campaign? Alex has such a timeless face and understated elegance in the way she moves and holds herself. She really loves and understands the ins and outs of design and how clothes and accessories can transform a woman. More than anything, Alex is a really wonderful, kind and intelligent human being, which goes such a long way in this industry.



What trait did she bring to the shoot day that was intrinsically Australian? Languid movement, a sense of humour and the essential easy-going attitude. 


Can you describe the experience of working with Anh? Anh has a formidable presence, and sureness of herself and her work. She’s fiercely intelligent, and has had such a rich and colourful life and career to date. Our conversations on set were quite something.



What, as a portrait artist, did she bring to the shoot that a model might not have? More than anything, the fact that a lot of Anh’s most notable work is self-portraiture really shows in her understanding of how she looks relative to the circumstantial lighting, set and looks. Any photographer or director will tell you that this awareness makes for such a smooth shoot day.


What was your favourite pearl piece from this Kailis collection? The Allura earrings were definitely my favourite from shoot day. I’m a sucker for brushed gold, and the hoops are such a wearable size that balances out the luxury of the pearls.



What fashion labels were included and what was thought process or mood for styling? We had a great high-low mix of entry-level contemporary, luxury and high-street brands to demonstrate the versatility of the jewellery. I wanted clean lines and interesting texture contrasts to mirror that of the pearl pieces.


Can you share your best current pearl styling tip? I like off-setting the perceived maturity of pearls with asymmetry. For example, wearing a pearl stud in one ear and a pearl hoop in the other.