After naming his clothing brands Citizens of Humanity and Seven for All Mankind after lines in “Armageddon,” Jerome Dahan is taking his love for movies a step further, producing the documentary series “Just Like You.”
The films revolve around the creative journeys of cultural leaders who inspire the brand, including chefs, ballet dancers and martial artists.
Featured individuals include ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, martial artist Rickson Gracie. Also profiled is French Michelin-starred chef Helene Darozze, who Pixar used as the inspiration for the character Colette in “Ratatouille.”
The move into making movies is notable, given that Citizens of Humanity represents the latest brand to take more control in how their companies are portrayed through various forms of entertainment. With digital cameras and online distribution making filmmaking more economical, more marketers are flexing their creative muscles and financing their own storytelling in an effort to make their wares appeal to consumers.
In Citizens’ case, that’s coming in the form of short films, helmed by Jared Freedman, creative director of strategic branding for Citizens of Humanity, that play across various digital platforms.
“As the company’s name suggests, our mission is to showcase the energy and passion of creative individuals,” Dahan said. “This film series has given me the opportunity to honor people who inspire me, and it is my hope that this series will also inspire others.”
Added Freedman, “Jerome is a student of life and these are people we can all learn from.”
Freedman already has cut his teeth in documentaries, having directed the Citizens-backed Anderson Silva documentary “Like Water,” which opened at the Tribeca Films Festival and Lionsgate distributed, as well as 2009 docu “The Carter,” about rapper Lil Wayne.
Shepherded by Citizens of Humanity president Amy Williams, project began with a short about Dahan.
“I was struck by the fact that he was someone who had a personal story and values that would inspire others,” Freedman said. “I wanted to tell the story of who he is, what inspires him, and capture the essence of what he lives every day. It is a story of perseverance, vision, hope, working hard, being kind to others and following your heart. It is a story about being human and it is what makes us all Citizens of Humanity.”
But that led to profiling others, who Freedman said “have innovated, worked through physical and emotionally challenges, overcome financial difficulty, fought stereotypes or cultural difficulties, and have always remained true to themselves” and “are all people who have been actively involved with philanthropic work and giving back.”
In association with the films, Citizen is also raising awareness for charities supported by the individuals in the shorts, by producing a line of T-shirts that it is selling online and donating proceeds to groups like the Afghanistan Libre, which looks to improve psychological and social conditions for women in Afghanistan, and the Rockson Gracie Foundation, which helps underprivileged kids find sanctuary in Jiu-Jitsu.
Two more individuals will be featured in “Just Like You” each month next year, while a second short film series is also planned by Citizens in 2013.
In addition to the films, Citizens also was a presenting sponsor for the Barry McGee retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum and a number of smaller art events in Los Angeles and New York. Next year, it will sponsor the Keith Haring retrospective at the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris.
“We are very interested in supporting artists from a variety of fields,” Freedman said.
Citizens considers branded entertainment to be an “extremely effective way to tell a rich and dimensional story,” Freedman said. “Product must be the focus of our company and compelling, but we are looking to establish a deeper connection and share the layers of the brand that make it rich and allow consumers and those we work with to truly connect with the work we are doing.”
For Citizens, that means a message of “being true to ourselves, striving to do our best and creating something that we are deeply passionate about with a group of people who share our common values,” Freedman added.
Naturally, Citizens hopes the films will benefit the brand’s overall identity. Company is measuring feedback from consumers, accounts and the media, and by other people who have approached the brand to be featured in their own videos, as well as other branding opportunities that have emerged because of the project.
For example, company supported Mikhail Baryshnikov’s photography exhibit, and set up a pop up store inside Harvey Nichols, in London, to screen the films at a branded installation timed with the introduction of shorts about Darroze and Gracie. It also hosted a luncheon with Darroze in London at her restaurant inside The Connaught hotel with 40 retailers, editors and influences.
“Each month, as we launch the new participants, we typically host an event with them to celebrate the shorts and share the story,” Freedman said.
So far, reactions have “been overwhelmingly positive and has invited conversations we had only dreamed of,” Freedman said.