Ken Grier talks about The Macallan’s photography collaboration with Steven Klein

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June 2017 marked the first time The Macallan’s Creative Director Ken Grier stepped foot in Hong Kong since the debut of its final Lalique decanter – the Peerless Spirit – a year ago; it was also less than two months after a major knee surgery that he had. But for a photography enthusiast like Grier, making the long-haul trip to Hong Kong was worth it. Especially for the debut of The Masters of Photography Steven Klein edition.

Following predecessors like Rankin and Annie Leibovitz, Klein’s version is a short film and 10 screen-captures packed in a sizeable kit that includes a special-edition whisky, a cocktail recipe booklet put together by Spanish culinary trio Roca Brothers, a horse head – shaped stopper designed by the artist himself and a plethora of mixology tools – a martini glass, highball pint glass, dripper, infuser and distiller – so home-bartenders can try their hand at the craft. The pack comes in 2000 numbered pieces.

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Though Klein’s piece marks the first time motion is involved in the collaboration, he was looking to “distil time” by blurring the past and present, with models (of which include Daphne Guinness) clad in Thom Brown stylised in a series of awkward poses in what seems to be a bar set in front of a post-apocalyptic background fuming with red smoke. 

“It’s very Blade Runner. It’s calm; it’s still; it’s fragmented, yet it’s psychedelic; but it leaves us wondering what has happened,” said Grier, adding that the project rung up a half-a-million-dollar bill in equipment alone but seeing the result (and spending a day of shooting sipping on Jordi Roca’s cocktails) made it all worthwhile.

“Photography and whisky are different in the same ways: photography is quick; whisky is slow. But both are crafts where mastery is achievable only through time,” he said. “It’s definitely an incredibly collectable and provocative piece. It truly is the best thing we’ve done so far.”

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The brooding and fashionably blunt style is also quintessentially Klein: since his debut in a shoot for Christian Dior in 1985, the photographer has shot for Balenciaga, Alexander Wang, Louis Vuitton, Roberto Cavalli, Chanel, Emporio Armani, Elie Tahari, Tom Ford and Dolce & Gabanna. Subjects who have appeared in his lens include the likes of Kanye West, Rihanna and Madonna.

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Described to be “pin-sharp”, “ultimately lyrical”, and “gently sadistic”, the photographer’s work is the sort where if “you give him a dress, [he will] give you a girl in a dress with a robot in the garden” (according to artistic director of Condé Nast Anna Wintour); and “is very much in sync with the idea that things are never what they really appear”, said Dennis Freedman, creative director of W.

However, the Klein that Grier saw when he first met the photographer at the Hilton Garden Inn on 8th and 49th streets, in New York, was also an equestrian lover who owned Harlequin Great Danes and a farm – archetypal contrasts that perhaps explain why he makes such a good partner to an equally complex brand like The Macallan, who, though a leader in the whisky industry, “doesn’t take it itself too seriously”.

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“If The Macallan is a thought leader, we need to be continuously provocative; we can’t be afraid to stand for something and need to be actively engaging with our customers, who are always looking for that genuine authenticity,” said Grier, explaining why for the Klein-partnership, the single malt label reveals a bottle designed for playful mixing (with recipes that includes sesame infusions, apple cinnamon and meat extracts) rather than its usual on-the-rocks gusto.

“With the kit, we basically turn the question to our consumers and say ‘what would you do with The Macallan?’,” he said. “This democratic approach is sort of the essence of our photography series: everyone can be photographer so long as they have a camera. We want people to share, to engage and to be social – those are the core values of The Macallan.”

“There’s really no limit as to where The Master of Photographer collaborations will end: there are endless variations on our liquids, locations and even formats. Technology is coming up with more colour-type prints, augmented reality, maybe even a combination of photographers? Who knows?” he concluded.

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