It was the invitation that bore the first clue to what the SS17 collection would hold – a self portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer best known for his highly controversial documentation of New York’s gay and fetish communities in the 1970s and 80s. Mapplethorpe’s image and images ran throughout the collection, appearing on every garment both literally and in more referential ways. Besides the photo prints, both of the artist and of his subjects and still life compositions, his influence could be felt in the shine and studs of a leather bar trucker hat, the subtle sexuality of a thin belt worn around the neck.
More than simply repurposing the work, Simons expressed a desire to present the world of an artist he has followed for years to a new audience. “I want to challenge myself also for the [Robert Mapplethorpe] Foundation to hopefully make it believable to a different audience… (to) reach out to different generations, not only people who are following art.”
Raf Simons about this collaboration
Usually when I work in collaboration with an artist I go ask the artist. This time I was the one who was asked to collaborate. The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation contacted me because they wanted to know if I was interested in finding a way to do something together. As soon as we started talking I began to feel that they’re really in another world. I was curious to find out why they wanted to do this and then I was interested to see what kind of schedule they had in mind. Maybe this was something they wanted to do in relation to the retrospective that was going to open, the documentary that’s about to come out and the film that’s been shot.
I went through all the work. Mapplethorpe kept all his original contact sheets. The archive is very beautiful to look at. Every print is in the same scale so you can see everything. There’s a huge number of books with categories for famous people, black guys, flowers, Lisa Lyon, her portraits, Polaroids… I was familiar with most of it, but there were also many things I’d never seen before. I was quite struck from the emotional impact seeing portraits of artists and certain people I admire who have passed away.
I’m a fashion designer, so I thought the biggest challenge for me was not to be boring and show Mapplethorpe’s work in a gallery again, but instead to show it in relation to my own environment.
Raf Simons declared: “It’s so easy to go wrong.”
I am a huge fan of the work by Raf Simons and of the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. But this time, I think Simons did go wrong. Years ago I made some clothes with printed-on photo’s of Joy Division and I can honestly say, these items were much more interesting than this collection. I wish I could show some pictures of the Joy Division items, alas I wasn’t and still am not good at documenting my work….
Simons could have been much more creative with the Mapplethorpe theme. I think, the way the photographs are presented in/on this collection doesn’t do Mapplethorpe’s work right at all.
Mapplethorpe, A Biography
by Patricia Morrisroe
The only biography I read as often as the biography of Coco Chanel!