Portrait of the Artist
A palpable excitement had been building around Raf’s mystery project at trade show Pitti Uomo ever since the announcement was made some months back. That it turned out to be an artistic collaboration of sorts – this time with groundbreaking photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe (or more precisely, the Foundation that’s in his name) – should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Belgian designer’s passion for art. It’s an obsession that informs almost every collection he designs, from his Jil Sander AW09 collection inspired by the ceramic forms of Pol Chambost, to the lauded one-off line he created with Sterling Ruby. It was pleasing to note though, that this SS17 collection had more in common with the kind of total synthesis of ideas exhibited in that Ruby collaboration. That is, the influence of Mapplethorpe’s photography was much more than cloth deep.
That makes sense really, given that the application of photography to his clothes has long been one of Raf’s signatures – those hoodies printed with David Sims’ pictures of subcultural youths were ubiquitous at LCM – but this really felt like a profound intersection of some of Simon’s hallmarks (both recent and old) and Mapplethorpe’s bold, deviant sprit. Cue plenty of curly haired models in the kind of leather hats worn not just by Mapplethorpe’s sitters – the beguiling characters that peopled New York’s underground gay scene in the 70s – but even by the man himself. Relatively classic white shirts, worn unbuttoned in places as if in some pre or post coital disarray, were the fairly neutral medium chosen to exhibit some of those black and white photographs, but they were worn with some of Raf’s iconic tight-then-flared trousers and technical sliders paired with socks: a firm favourite on many catwalks this season, actually,
Those oversized knits from last season made a welcome return as well – in the form of cropped sweater vests or vast jumpers with buttons on the shoulders that gaped open and hung undone to reveal the Mapplethorpe pictures beneath: it brought a new meaning to the idea of embedding photography into clothes. A leather apron meanwhile, was perhaps the most over reference to Mapplethorpe’s personal and professional interest in the fetish scenes he was so at pains to record and instrumental in revealing to the wider public – not, of course, that anything so didactic or dreary as mere documentation was his aim. Amid all the conceptual flair and cerebral polish however, were some beautiful clothes that Raf’s eternally growing fan base will be keen to wear: crisply cut overcoats that read like minimalist blazers extended, or raincoats whose loose throat buckles hinted at those ideas of fetishism and domination in a way that was quiet enough to be sufficiently commercial. And isn’t that always the appeal of Raf Simons? Shows that are intelligent and ambitious but that feature some clothes which can, when all is said and done, be worn.