In the 1980s Robert Mapplethorpe would often hold showings of his art at the same time but in two locations. The uptown locale would show his upscale portraits and still-life photos of flowers, and alternatively, the downtown gallery would display his overtly sexual, controversial art. This split personality defined Mapplethorpe and his career in black and white photography, and in his memory, his photographs have been memorialized by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
The foundation contacted Raf Simons during planning for his spring 2017 show and the designer jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with Mapplethorpe’s artwork. After gaining third party rights for every photo used in his menswear collection, Raf Simons understandably felt a deeper connection to the subjects and Mapplethorpe himself. Each look in Simons’ collection had a photo by Mapplethorpe printed on the front as the main focus of each billowing button down shirt.
The simple button downs paired with slim trousers and skinny belts gave each models the appearance of the artist. Mapplethorpe’s influence continued with the BDSM vibe from his photos showing up in the collection in the form of belts as chokers, leather pants, and leather overalls. Simons explained, “I wanted to approach it like a museum show, or a gallery show. Which has been done very often when it comes to Mapplethorpe’s work, Cindy Sherman did it, David Hockney did it. But always in a gallery. I am a fashion designer. I thought the biggest challenge would be to do it in my own environment.”