‘His passion is infectious’: Highsnobiety on Francis Bourgeois’s Gucci x North Face ad

Francis Bourgeois in the Highsnobiety campaign

The Drum catches up with Highsnobiety to take a closer look at one the most talked about ads of the year so far.

How did a 21-year-old eccentric trainspotter from England get onboard one of the most highly anticipated fashion drops of the year? For Francis Bourgeois, the ticket to his success has been a combination of a few factors – lockdown, TikTok and simply being his free-spirited self online – all of which has led to him becoming the face of Highsnobiety’s new film for The North Face and Gucci collaboration.

It’s been a whirlwind ride for the locomotive lover, real name Luke Nicolson, who began posting videos to his TikTok channel showcasing his unadulterated passion for trainspotting last year. The account has gone on to amass 2.1 million fans, with his honest social media persona attracting people from all over, including celebrities such as singer Joe Jonas, footballer Thierry Henry and popstar Vanessa Hudgens.

When Highsnobiety’s video was published earlier this week the internet was rooting for Bourgeois once again. In the short film, viewers see a dream-like world where a group of youthful city-dwellers take a trip to the mountains adorning ’90s-style puffa jackets, with Francis acting as the train conductor.

Josh Wilson, senior art director at Highsnobiety, tells The Drum that the joyful energy that radiates from Bourgeois was infectious on set.

“His knowledge and passion for trains is so infectious, he had us captivated by the smells, sights and noises of the steam engine by the end of the shoot. There’s much more to him than people see in his videos. After a couple of drinks in the hotel bar (his is a Guinness) in which all the crew were staying, his natural wit and charm had us all in hysterics. He’s quite the creative too, showing us preliminary ideas of his side-projects and telling us about his passion for creating electronic music,” says Wilson.

“The current state of the world can become unsettling and overpowering at times, but the smile and unbridled joy of Francis as he jumps up and down on a platform brings simplicity to it all, which we wanted to harness. There can often be a lot of egos in fashion and it takes itself very seriously, so it’s nice to forget about all that and have fun with a piece of content.”

The frantic opening scene was created to reflect those real-life moments of rushing about a station and to bring a sense of urgency as the train arrives at the platform.

“For the tracking shot on the platform we looked at directors from French New Wave cinema such as Jacques Tati and their use of Controlled Chaos, intrigued by this busyness and choreography that pans out quite effortlessly,” explains Wilson.

Small, nuanced moments in the video, such as the photobooth scene, get viewers up close and personal with Francis and friends, with the idea being rooted in showcasing ‘mini-concepts’ throughout the film.

In between takes the cast and crew amused themselves by playing a drawing game called Exquisite Corpse, where you split a piece of paper into three and multiple people sketch different parts of the body.

“Francis loved it, he said something along the lines of, ‘it not only shows creativity but people’s inner Freudian subconscious.’ There were a few expletives so I don’t know what that says about the crew who took part,” jokes Wilson.

The crossover of internet culture and high-end fashion is a concept that David Fischer, founder and chief exec of Highsnobiety, believes will continue.

“We’re going to see fashion brands push cultural commentary on this convergence in more unexpected ways,” he says.

“On one end we’re going to see this contrast where brands like Balenciaga lean all the way into this somewhat surreal aesthetic expression of the metaverse, whilst on the other end of the spectrum, there will be brands like Gucci encouraging people to connect with nature and spaces that can only be experienced physically. It’s an interesting time, and I think fashion will continue to offer some of the most innovative insights.”

Bourgeois has become somewhat of a poster child for being unapologetically yourself online, and, as Fischer concludes, it’s all about “charging and amplifying the unique voices” who are driving culture.

“If you’re going to engage in it, first you have to listen. Seek to participate meaningfully,” he adds. “Don’t just billboard the talent and gatekeepers of the cultures you’re trying to reach – enlist them as creators and empower their vision.”