When two artists meet
His obscenity is never obscene – Jean Genet
A contemporary trend for fashion exhibitions has prompted many to question – can fashion be art? This, however, rarely leads to satisfying answers. It is rather the nature of the relation between the two that should be questioned. How did one artist find inspiration in the work of another?
Fashion and art are siblings. They might not always hang around in the same social spheres, or fraternise with the same people, but they are inescapably connected and whenever they do meet, the results are usually intense.
After a successful collaboration with the American Sterling Ruby for AW14, menswear designer Raf Simons plunged into the work of another artist: the world renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
It was the Mapplethorpe foundation, founded a year before the photographer’s dead and dedicated to preserve his heritage, that contacted Raf for the collaboration. The foundation had worked with other artist before, like Cindy Sherman, David Hockney and Hedi Slimane, but never before had the iconic images been incorporated into a collection. Raf didn’t just curate the work, he also interpreted and appropriated.
Now how does one use the work of such a legendary photographer, without losing part of one’s own identity? The Belgian prodigy took a determined decision. He chose to let the images lead the design. The collection would become the gallery space, the clothes transformed into frames. In a recent Vogue interview he mentioned: “I know the collection looked quite simple. I wanted the result almost as if it would hang on a wall somewhere, in a gallery, in a domestic environment. But I hated the idea that the collection or the silhouette would look overdesigned in relation to the purity of Mapplethorpe’s work.”
The collection is the result of intense research into the life and work of the American artist. Suggestive but poetic still-life images of flowers, orchids and lilies, or the more provocative American Flag, which now feels more punctual than ever. Then there’s the portraits of Denis Speight, David Bern or Patti Smith.
Working with such a controversial artist inevitably brings up questions of censorship and restriction. Due to copyright infringement, 50% of the collection presented at Paris fashion week didn’t make it to production. And because everything is now sold on the internet, none of Mapplethorpe’s pornographic images could be used. However, Raf did allude to the photographer’s homoeroticism with suggestive black strap hanging around the models’ necks.
A subtle flirtation between two artists.