Sterling Ruby on Raf, fashion and 'messing' with Americana
The artist was at Harvard on Monday, talking with the Calvin Klein boss and Phaidon author Jessica Morgan
The Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons and the American artist Sterling Ruby may seem worlds apart, yet they were actually born pretty close to one another: Ruby on a US army base in western Germany - and Simons in a tiny village just the other side of the border, in Belgium.
Ruby's mother is Dutch, and her birthplace was even closer to Raf's hometown. What's more, both Raf and Ruby's fathers were military men, and Raf and Ruby both missed out on a big-city upbringing, having to make do with what rural, small-town life had to offer.
When, roughly 14 years ago, Simons – an avid art collector – came to visit Ruby's studio in Los Angeles the pair were relieved to discover that, rather than lapse into the rather awkward relationship of patron and client, they actually had quite a lot in common, as Ruby recalled in a recently talk at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Ruby and Simons spoke at the school on Monday, discussing their work with fellow Phaidon contributor – and author of our Sterling Ruby book – Jessica Morgan.
"We got along extremely well," recalls the artist. "We started to understand that we had a lot of commonalities – growing up in mostly rural settings, even though I was in Pennsylvannia and he was in Belgium."
Though Ruby is more an artist than a fashion designer, he described feeling a certain charge clothes offered, back when he was a teenager, that Simons could relate to.
"When I was thirteen and I was wearing something it kinda gave me a behavioural power," he says, "I never thought of it as fashion, I just thought of it as the significance of the way you enter the world and present yourself."
Unlike many artists who branch out into fashion, Raf x Ruby did not merely boil down to a marketing exercise – as Simons suggests most artworld collaborations end up being – the pair's involvement became so holistic, that it was as if, they said, their studios had merged.
When Raf came to take up a position as chief creative officer at Calvin Klein in 2016, he and Ruby began to discuss the creative possibilities the job afforded.
"The brand was a way to fuck with Americana," says Ruby, acknowledging CK's legacy, but also its slightly fallow period prior to Raf's appointment. Together, he realized they could "push American fashion, which, had until recently, been at an all-time low. We could to try to create new icons; it was dangerous but also exciting."
Calvin Klein's new mix of Warhol prints, popcorn, pompoms and horror movie aesthetics certainly seem to introduced a little danger into American fashion, despite (or perhaps because) these two instigators were born far beyond the US borders.
For more on Sterling Ruby order a copy of our monograph; for more on contemporay fashion, go here.