Raf Simons creates Robert Mapplethorpe collection
Belgian fashion designer collaborates with photographer's estate for Spring 2017 men's collection
The Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons has a fairly impressive fine-art pedigree. He serves as an art adviser to Antwerp’s wealthy Cigrang brothers; he also an impressive art collection himself, including works by Mike Kelley and Pablo Picasso; and in 2013, he created a clothing line with the US artist Sterling Ruby.
However, his latest collection, unveiled a couple of days ago, puts him on a new level. For Spring 2017 Simons has collaborated with the estate of Robert Mapplethorpe.
The garments, shown at the Pitti Oumo fashion event in Florence a few days ago, feature sharp recreations of many of the late photographer’s well-known works, as well as plenty of lesser-known ones, including a little-seen portrait of the New York painter Alice Neel.
Although familiar with Mapplethorpe’s work, Simons says he was very impressed by the quality of the estate's archive, when he came to examine the photographer’s prints and contact sheets.
“It’s like almost every photograph is mind blowing,” Simons says. “The challenge for me was to deal with how difficult it is go incorporate photorealistic prints in garments. It’s so easy to go wrong doing that, so I wanted the clothes to look very simple and serene.”
Simons told W Magazine that, rather than having to seek out the rights to use the images, the estate approached him. In coming up with this collection, Simons said he was careful to present the photographer’s sensitive floral work and portraiture alongside Mapplethorpe’s highly sexualised imagery.
Simons' clothes are not museum walls, however, so the designer says he was conscious not to over explain or contextualise the late photographer’s pictures.
“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.” And in this collection of angular shirts, jackets and vests, he certainly looks as if he’s achieved this.
To understand Simon’s clothing a little more clearly, consider buying a copy of The Fashion Book; for greater insight into some of Robert Mapplethorpe’s most beautiful photography get Mapplethorpe Flora: The Complete Flowers.