A new collaborative zine with Heaven by Marc Jacobs sees the model and photographer explore Tokyo together.
At the core of Alexandra Leese's work is a sensitivity for her subjects. Not a forced kind of sensitivity for the sake of an image, but a genuine care which is felt in every portrait she takes. Exploring themes of identity and the body, the Hong Kong-born, London-based photographer has worked throughout her career to capture people as their authentic selves, whether shooting editorial work for magazines like i-D and The Face or her own personal projects. This human approach to image-making shines the brightest in her past zines, which include a gentle study of Hong Kong's young men, shot back in 2018, and her unflinchingly intimate 2020 project Me+Mine, which saw 44 individual women from around the world, including Alexandra herself, posing naked over webcam.
Arriving this week, the photographer's latest publication is a sensual, joy-fuelled zine made in collaboration with Gen Z favourite Heaven by Marc Jacobs, which documents Tokyo through the eyes of Japanese-American star Kiko Mizuhara. Inviting Alexandra into her apartment and touring her through her favourite spots in the city, the zine offers a glimpse into the actress, designer and model's personal idea of 'heaven'. Shot in dreamy soft-focus, we see her curled up naked with her cat in her bed, slurping down ramen at her favourite restaurant in Shinjuku, and diving with her friends at a picturesque seaside town called Izu. In some shots, she's clad in Heaven's nostalgic girly-grunge pieces; in others, she's bare and in command of her sexuality. A unifying feeling throughout the zine, though, is that of contentment: a portrait of Kiko precisely the way she wants to be seen.
"I didn't know Kiko personally before Ava Nirui [the creative director of Heaven] invited me to do this project, so it was really generous of her to open up her home to me," Alexandra says. "We had a lot of fun. Her idea of 'heaven' centres around spending time with the people she loves and being in nature, especially near water. These are things she really values. She discovered diving during the pandemic and totally fell in love with it. That's why we thought to include some incredible underwater pictures in the zine."
Kiko began her modelling career at the tender age of 12 after winning a competition for Seventeen magazine, and has since worked for an exhaustive list of fashion brands and starred in several films, including Tran Anh Hung's 2010 adaptation of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. As she has been captured on camera so many times over the years, and embodied many different characters, for this project, Alexandra wanted to photograph Kiko in a new and personal way. "I wanted to try and capture the real Kiko," she says. "A side of her people maybe people don't often get to see. It was important that the images felt authentic."
Like much of Alexandra's past work, the zine also offered a space for Kiko to engage with her sensuality. Some nude shots take on a playful vibe, such as a cheeky close-up bum pic, while others are more seductive, like a powerful portrait of her peering through a half-open translucent shoji door. "Female sensuality is a topic I often explore in my work, and I feel like I approach it with sensitivity," Alexandra says. "I like making women feel beautiful and sensual, but that can be captured in many different ways according to each person. I always try to stay true to whoever I am shooting."
"With Kiko, it just felt right in the moment," she continues. "She is comfortable in her body, and nudity isn't a big deal to her, which is a wonderful thing as it really shouldn't be treated as such [a taboo]. I think that's why the images feel so natural and honest."
While Alexandra was in Japan shooting the project, Kiko kept a diary in which she jotted down her feelings throughout the trip, a few pages of which are included in the zine. Though the entries read more like fragments of thought than a typical journal -- "we are all magical beings" and "let our lives be very special", for example -- what's evident in Kiko's words is the positive experience of creating the project as a whole, and the joy to be found when you pause to spot heaven in the everyday.
Art direction Jamie Reid
Beauty Rie Shiraishi, Sakie Miura and Tomoya Nakagawa
Production Eden Creative