Twenty cancer patients were invited to a studio in Brussels and told that they were going to be treated to makeovers. It’s a routine we’ve seen before–giving the cancer-battered a boost with an external revamp. Only this time, there’s a fairly significant twist.
The women and men were asked to keep their eyes closed while their hair and makeup was done by a team of professionals, and surely, the participants assumed that they were going to look pretty damn good by the end of the process. But when the models finally got to sit down in front of a mirror and open their eyes, they got a big surprise when they saw that they didn’t undergo traditional makeovers. Instead, they were transformed into all sorts of absurd characters through the magic of some wonderfully ridiculous wigs. While one woman sported a sky-high beehive, another was given a glorious head of curls that looked like it might have been plucked from Marie Antoinette’s wig collection. Meanwhile, one of the guys was rocking an epic mullet.
The patients reacted to their silly transformations with pure delight and lots of laughter as we see in a behind-the-scenes video shot by director Coban Beutelstetter, and that was the point of the exercise orchestrated by Leo Burnett Paris and captured in a book of photographs titled If Only for a Second, the proceeds of which benefit the Mimi Foundation, an organization that operates support and well-being centers for cancer patients in hospitals in Belgium, France and Switzerland. “Our goal was to find a way to express the true mission of the Mimi Foundation–bringing wellness to cancer patients,” says Leo Burnett Paris executive creative director Xavier Beauregard. “While most charity campaigns are designed to appeal to people’s compassion with hard-hitting visuals, we wanted to create something that would convey the notion of being carefree, and we wanted cancer patients to be at the heart of the project.”
It was during interviews with cancer patients that the creative team from Leo Burnett Paris found their inspiration for If Only for a Second. A woman with an incurable cancer spoke about how much she missed the carefree existence she once took for granted. “We realized that for cancer patients the feeling of being surprised and carefree vanished the day they learned about their condition,” Beauregard says.
So Leo Burnett Paris arranged outrageous makeovers that would, hopefully, lead to moments of unexpected joy for the cancer patients, allowing them to forget about being sick at least for a little while.
Photographer Vincent Dixon was hidden behind a two-way mirror the day of the makeovers, enabling him to capture the patients’ natural reactions to their new looks. Beauregard, who was there that day, recalls there was some tension in the air prior to each reveal. “We were so afraid of disappointing our models,” he recalls. “There was a huge challenge since it was essential to blow them away with exquisite and fantastic looks.”
But one by one the models shared positively gleeful reactions, and there wasn’t an ounce of sadness in the air. “It was a time of joy,” Beauregard says, “and we all felt so blessed to witness these precious moments.”