Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the giants of modern American photography, most notable for his striking black-and-white self-portraits, nudes and sexualized still lifes of flowers, as well as shedding light on New York’s underground BDSM scene of the ’60s and ’70s. Raf Simons’ latest collection, shown at Pitti Immagine Uomo, was very much an homage to Mapplethorpe’s extraordinary work — a collaboration born when the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation approached Simons for the Spring/Summer 2017 season.
Seeing himself as a curator, Simons prominently exhibited Mapplethorpe’s compositions on every single ensemble, all of which the designer had to clear third-party rights with the artist’s subjects before incorporating them, thus leading to a deeper level of engagement with the photographs than Simons had first envisioned. The result was a collection of billowing shirts that hinted at the style of Mapplethorpe’s muse, Patti Smith, slanted leather biker caps, and no shortage of black leather jackets and overalls that overtly highlighted the show’s BDSM undercurrents.
“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,” said Simons, post-show. “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.”