There’s a shoot about to start when shots arrives at Rankin’s studios in north London, and the air hums with a kind of nervous energy. Crew members with directional haircuts mill around; equipment is unloaded from vans; doors slam; models saunter in, all gangly limbs and dressed-down cool. Amidst the hubbub, Vicky Lawton is a reassuringly down-to-earth presence, cradling a steaming cup of tea; her only nod to fashion a pair of electric-blue ankle boots.

The director, creative and photographer is still buzzing from the excitement of being named Creative Circle’s Best New Female Commercials Director last year. She’s just directed a new spot for Xiomi's Mi Band – India’s answer to the FitBit - adding fitness to her impressive reel of fashion and beauty campaigns, fashion films and music videos. Turns out Lawton’s dynamic and glossy aesthetic – she describes herself as a ‘visual fanatic’ – is as much in demand by brands outside the fashion world as it is by the likes of Chanel, Bourjois and Agent Provocateur.


Xiomi Mi Band Start What You Can't Stop (trailer)


Something’s gotta give 

As well as a burgeoning directing career, Lawton holds two creative directorships within the Rankin realm: his fashion and culture biannual magazine, Hunger, which she helped launch in 2011; and in-house creative agency, The Full Service, through which Lawton has pitched and produced campaigns for Belstaff, Versace and French Connection, among others. Having also returned to photography for the first time since her degree, how on earth is she keeping all the balls in the air? “Last year was my ‘can I do everything?’ year,” explains Lawton, “and the answer was, ‘no’. So I’ve stepped away from Hunger a little bit, into a more executive role… But there’s going to have to be another ‘Ok, what’s going to go?’ moment this year.”

Whatever the outcome, she’s unlikely to stray too far from what she calls “the family business” – she’s currently repped by Rankin offshoots: The Graft, for directing, and Tonic Represents for photography, and has a decade-long history with the man behind the empire, having started at the studio as a photography intern. Over the years, she says, Rankin has become a real mentor to her. “He’s basically been the person who’s said, ‘You can do this on your own’. He gave me the confidence to really go for it [directing]. When I started getting into the commercials world, I’d be all, ‘er, I’m just about to do this kind of shoot, what do you reckon?’ and he’d just say, ‘Oh, you know what you’re doing’. And now, sometimes, we’re pitching on the same things, which is scary – but also amazing!” The student, it seems, is rapidly becoming the master.


Still from a watch campaign produced by Lawton for Versace


It’s a long way from her early days dabbling in directing. Armed with a Canon 7D DSLR – “the perfect tool to learn, very simply, about film” –Lawton began teaching herself how to craft a story: “how do I take that person from A to B, how do I want to record that journey?” When her day job as a creative director took her onto film shoots, she badgered the crew about the whys and wherefores of the equipment they were using, absorbing every last detail. 

After picking up a handful of beauty ads, she landed a zingy launch campaign for New Zealand energy drink V Pure, which featured thundering horses, fire, acrobats and exotic birds. “The brief was just three words - ‘pure, natural, energy,” she remembers, “so I just packed in as much as I could from my creative reference archive, all the stuff I’d ever wanted to do. It was a visual feast!”  


Comfy in the uncomfortable zone 

That extensive creative reference archive and fashion editorial heritage has clearly shaped Lawton’s directing style: her work is incredibly visual, full of montages and quick cuts, every shot packed full of colour and surprise, all overlaid with a glossy finish. And V Pure hasn’t been the only non-fashion brand to covet a fashion aesthetic in its advertising, as evidenced by the aforementioned “bonkers but brilliant” commercial for Mi Band, which took her out of the studio and into the sweltering slums of Mumbai. Running around rooftops in 90 per cent humidity, the monsoon due to arrive any day, made for a tough shoot, but Lawton loved every minute out on location. “[The client] was looking for that fashion/beauty edge, but in sport,” she explains, “which I found interesting as a lot of my work is action-y, but also quite polished, and I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to bring it all together. It was quite a challenge, seeing how that glossy approach to visuals would work on the streets.” And her style could translate into almost any context, reckons Lawton. “I could light a car in the same way that I light a face. I’d love the challenge of doing a car commercial.”  


V Pure Pure, Natural, Energy


Being in such demand, it would be easy to stick with a tried-and-tested formula, but Lawton constantly challenges herself to push the boundaries. “I try and teach myself something on every job. What can I use on the next job that’s different to the last? Whether that’s new rigs, or a new camera and a lens which could be used in a different way. I find that all really fascinating. What I want to do now is keep pushing the boundaries. I tell myself: I’ve done this before, so what’s going to make it that bit more uncomfortable?” 

Outside of commercials, Lawton has continued to pursue her love of fashion through films for the likes of Chanel, Elie Saab and Jil Sander. Here, too, she’s tried to push beyond the tropes of the genre. Fashion films are often criticised for taking themselves too seriously – not a charge that could be levelled at her 2015 effort for Chanel’s K-Pop inspired 2016 Cruise Resort collection, which saw model Charlotte Free kick, punch, drop and roll through a video-game obstacle course, tongue firmly wedged in cheek. 

Even Lawton’s more ‘classic’ fashion films have an edge: in the darkly beautiful Point of View for Jil Sander, shifting walls and boxes echo the minimalist lines of a designer handbag but also create a creeping sense of claustrophobia. “It might be a beautiful image, but there’s still emotion there, there’s still something going on,” explains Lawton of her approach. 


Jil Sander Point of View


She’s particularly keen to embrace “a beginning, a middle and an end” in her work, and thinks that’s where the genre is headed – while still recognising there’s a place for what she calls “moving portraits”. “There’s merit to that if it’s done in a beautiful way – a still image is one moment and a fashion film is sometimes just a moving version of that. But I think it’s always nice to give something a reason. A journey. That would be a way for fashion film to really push it. People could definitely be more brave.”  


Posh pants and pasta with sauce 

What about fashion’s age-old reliance on ‘sex sells’? Lawson is no stranger to bottoms and boobs, having shot for luxury lingerie purveyors Agent Provocateur and erotica emporium Coco de Mer. The latter’s short film, X (tagline: ‘They say you think about sex every six seconds. We can help you think about sex even more.’), collectively directed with Rankin and six other filmmakers, is an erotic jolt to the brain; two and a half minutes of aphrodisiac imagery, from the abstract to the eye-poppingly explicit. It won Lawton a Young Director Award in 2016. “I love that kind of thing,” says Lawton cheerfully, “when myself and the model are on the same wavelength, and it’s a real collaboration.” 


 Coco de Mer X


But does this sort of sexualised imagery still have a place in the post-Weinstein and #MeToo world? Lawton worries that if the pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction, it could be a retrograde step – creatively, artistically and yes, for gender equality. “I don’t want us to stop making work that’s sexual, because we’ve fought so long to have the power and the chance to do something that is free. I’m worried that we’re going to go back to not being able to express ourselves.”

The conversation segues onto model-slash-actress Emily Ratajowski’s antics for LOVE magazine’s advent calendar, where the self-professed feminist was filmed writhing around in spaghetti and mocked for declaring the shoot ‘empowering’. “I think people just need to be more accepting of [that fact] this is a woman who is really confident with her body – this is almost her form of art and a way to express herself,” reckons Lawton. “I think she’s awesome to get up and do that. It’s completely unapologetic.” For Lawton, the female form is a beautiful thing, and if a woman is “happy and comfortable and enjoying the moment” in front of the camera, then why the hell not? In fact, something Lawton has been “dying to get round to” is a nudes photography series. “I want to do something I haven’t done since uni. Something completely unfiltered. Someone in their rawest form.” 

With all these boundary-pushing projects in her sights, something tells us this creative polymath is going to find her ‘something’s got to go’ moment particularly tough this year...



What’s your favourite ever ad?

That would have to be a tie between My Mutant Brain, the Kenzo World fragrance ad by Spike Jonze and Levi’s Odyssey directed by Jonathan Glazer.


What product could you not live without?

I got a Kindle for my birthday and it’s my new best friend. 


What do you think of social media?

It’s an addiction! 


How do you relieve stress during a shoot?

I drink Diet Coke and eat crisps. 


What’s the last film you watched and was it any good?

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – it blew my mind.


What’s your favourite piece of tech?

Not necessarily tech, but the body rigs we created for the Sweat Story film I shot in Mumbai were fantastic. And an eye opener into what the possibilities are. 


What film do you think everyone should have seen?

It’s a Wonderful Life, at the Hebden Bridge Picturehouse.


What fictitious character do you most relate to?

Tina or Gene, sometimes Louise, from [animated US sitcom] Bob’s Burgers.


If you weren’t doing the job you do now, what would you like to be?

A stunt woman. I don’t have the fitness skills, or mental strength but I think it would be so awesome to drive a car really fast then do a roly-poly out of it, jump off a bridge and land on a lorry.


Tell us one thing about yourself that most people won’t know…

I have a big collection of hats.

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