Generally positive reactions to Raf Simons’ ode to Robert Mapplethorpe last week in Florence. The revered 80s photographer is having a moment, after his retrospective exhibitions at LACMA and The Getty Center in Los Angeles (and the HBO documentary Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures) reminded us of the breadth of his output. As with Gosha, Raf is well versed in finding ways to demonstrate his passions while keeping to his signature house codes.
So, haphazardly oversized silhouettes continue to dominate, as do the cut-and-paste, collagy motifs familiar to any Raf fan-boy (or girl). The collaboration was initiated by the Mapplethorpe camp and eagerly embraced by Raf. As well as recognisable portraits of Debbie Harry, Patti Smith and Robert Sherman, other recurring Mapplethorpe themes included male nudes, antique statues and elegant flower photographs.
These were artfully and respectfully placed by Raf, framed in the open neckline of a slouchy sweater, on the bib of a dungaree, or arranged in triplicate down the side of a shirt. As Raf commented to the FT (registration required), “I wanted to approach it like when you do an exhibition at a museum or a gallery, but of course the medium is so different. Which was a big challenge, because otherwise you have T-shirt with prints which is what most people do but which I don’t find very respectful.”
While the naked male member glimpsed on a shirt was seen by some as deliberately provocative, it was the flower prints that grabbed my attention. They reminded me of my Raf-for-Dior flower placement sweatshirt from SS14 along with an orchid-print silk square scarf. But to anyone unfamiliar with Mapplethorpe’s work, they just represented covetable, wearable pieces.
To accompany the show, Raf produced an exhibition of his 20-year-old archive, which helped to reinforce his recurrent themes. The oversized white shirts and layered, cropped knits, the peekaboo photo placements, they’re all Raf signatures that we know and love. Yet how perfectly they translate as canvases for Mapplethorpe’s work…
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Vogue Runway; Yu Fujiwara for W magazine
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