Why a Fashion Retailer Chose to Tell a Dying Woman's Difficult Yet Beautiful Story
"Dying in a hospital is not what's natural; it's not what's … soft. In these kinds of moments, you need softness."
It's hard to say much, or even little, about "All Is Beauty," a brand video for Canadian fashion retailer Simons. It's better just to show it.
The work is unscripted and contains no products. Instead, it's composed of the reflections of a woman called Jennyfer, who died in October, and who sought to fill her last moments with as much beauty and experience as possible.
"It can take dying to figure out what living is actually like," Jennyfer says at one point in the video, which is produced like life itself: non-linear, with breathtaking shots and expanses. The film opens in a small, sterile hospital room, voiceover set to the beeps of a heart monitor. Then the room sets off onto the wider ocean, for all the world a tiny box, like a wish in a bottle over the waves.
Created by Broken Heart Love Affair, "All Is Beauty" is part of a larger vision set out by Peter Simons, who has transitioned from CEO to head merchant.
"We made the choice coming out of the pandemic to do something that has some importance, that has a deeper meaning," Simons says. "We've taken the past two years to truly reflect on who we want to be as a company and have made the choice to use the privilege of our voice and platform to create something meaningful, something that is less about commerce and more about connection."
The work marks a deviation from the brand's previous focus on reinforcing ties to the Quebecois market. "It is stories like Jennyfer's that we want to share—human experiences that move us and allow us to see the world in a different way," Simons continues. "A way that may be uncomfortable, but where there is discomfort there is growth and an opportunity to see deeper meaning and deeper beauty that we may have otherwise missed."
We are briefly reminded of how, when United Colors of Benetton worked with Oliviero Toscani, they sought to create advertising as a platform for difficult conversations. These days, that's the format for a lot of advertising, which can feel like side-taking: making a stance for some bigger social value. But unlike Benetton, there isn't a semblance of product here, and none of Toscani's bombastic artistic choices.
There is only, as Jennyfer herself observed, softness: a stick cutting its message through sand, jellyfish rising, people in community, photos from throughout Jennyfer's life.
"This project is unlike anything we have done before," says Craig McIntosh, chief creative officer of BHLA. "Peter was adamant that their message would have a broader impact and could transform the way people approach their life. He wants Simons to be a catalyst for change, more than simply a retailer."
BHLA is well-suited to the task. Launched during the pandemic, the agency seems especially preoccupied with larger questions of meaning and connectedness. Its work for snack brand MakeGood felt acutely activist. "Immortal," for the Royal Ontario Museum, was sweeping and, well, heartbreaking. "We Are Made of Stardust" reminds us of how great we are, and also how small.
Something weird happened to us over the course of the pandemic. It's a thing that's easy to forget as time marches forward, but I suspect there remains a sense memory in our collective body. It's harder to act like larger questions of existence—what it is to live, die, love and choose how you spend time—are secondary luxuries against the demands of our economies and social structures.
Instead, these questions seem to demand contemplation, and also action, in ways they didn't before. Work like this feels like a manifestation of that. There's nothing to do for Jennyfer. Her life has passed, but she's left us this story, these reflections. There's nothing we're being asked to buy. Instead, we're left to wonder: What do we leave behind, and who do we live with and care for, in the meantime? How can we honor the brutal and temporal beauty of being alive?
"While her story is not easy to tell, it is a moving testament to the exquisiteness and fragility of human life and an inspiring example of how our bravery to act and see things differently can drastically change our reality," says Simons. "It poignantly proves that all is beauty."
"All Is Beauty" will appear online and on Canadian television in :60 and :30 variants. It will be supported by digital out-of-home throughout Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.