Raf Simons has merged art and fashion many times in the past. For his Fall 2003 collection, entitled ‘Closer’, he worked with graphic designer Peter Saville on a capsule of parkas. (In January 2016 the parkas were made available on Grailed, with one selling for $7,000, and the remaining trio listed for $20,000.) His Fall 2014 collection featured a collaboration with visual artist Sterling Ruby. The collection featured paint-splattered garments. This collaboration extended to Raf’s tenure at Dior where he featured Sterling Ruby prints in his debut haute couture show. These partnerships came into fruition when Raf and his team contacted the artist; his Fall 2016 show, which also featured the art-fashion connection, was different.
The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation reached out to Raf asking if he would be interested in collaborating. Naturally, Raf accepted the offering. He trawled the Mapplethorpe archive, selecting the pieces that resonated with him the most. He wanted to mix the portraits of artists and the more sexually explicit work that Mapplethorpe controversially created—the photographs where he explored the underground BDSM scene in New York and homoeroticism.
“I wanted to challenge myself also for the Foundation to hopefully make it believable to a different audience… [to] reach out to different generations, not only people who are following art,” the designer shared with Dazed at the time of the show. Appealing to those who aren’t art connoisseurs may be a challenge but in 2016 it’s easier than it has ever been before. By printing Mapplethorpe photographs on shirt and dungarees, whether they are of the inimitable Patti Smith or a phallus or flowers, customers will be eager to buy into screen printed pieces—as the meteoric rise of printed tees has evinced over the past five years. However, that’s the easy way out. “The challenge for me was to deal with how difficult it is to 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,” he told W, post-show. A true fashion designer with an appreciation for the craft will not settle for the consumer-baiting tees; they’ll delve into the meaning of an artist’s work and how they should be appropriately mingled with the clothes.
The alternative method of presentation—favouring democratic seating, allowing guests to sit or stand where they please—contributed to the experience. After wandering the cavernous show space, sashaying around mannequins which exhibited Raf’s catalogue of work. It instilled the spirit of a museum. Raf did label himself a curator with this collection, referencing David Hockney and Cindy Sherman, two artists that have worked with the Mapplethorpe archive and who continually inspired the Belgian designer. This was echoed in the collection, where the clothes were intended as picture frames for the Mapplethorpe work; each expressive shirt or sweater paired with simple black trousers.
The art as fashion debate arguments are endless. Can art ever be fashion? There was a period on this blog where I examined many collection where art and fashion intersected, and in hindsight the answer to the question is much clearer. Art and fashion are separate mediums and can never be one. They are distinctly different mediums, with varying modes of expression… but, they can converge. The point of convergence is generally a rich offering, especially when in the hands of a talented man like Raf Simons.
Photo Credit: voguerunway.com