Raf Simons' Mapplethorpe Infused Collection Will Leave You Drooling
Back in 1989, Republican senator Jesse Helms spoke for the majority of conservatives at the time when he allegedly called Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs “obscene,” and Mapplethorpe himself an artist “who promote[s] homosexuality insidiously and deliberately, who desecrate[s] crucifixes by immersing them in urine…[someone willing to] engage in whatever perversion it takes to win acclaim as an artist on the ‘offending edge’ and therefore entitled to taxpayer funding.”
27 years later and these same “obscene” images can be found in every look from Raf Simons’ Spring 2017 men’s collection, which he showed yesterday at Pitti Immagine Uomo. And yet, as far as we’ve come as a culture, it was still hard not to think of such hate-filled statements upon viewing the collection—and especially in light of the LGBT-targeted Orlando shooting last weekend.
Simons’ show yesterday wasn’t so much a tribute to Mapplethorpe as it was a collaboration with the late, iconic artist. As Alexander Fury noted, during a time when everyone seems to be mindlessly appropriating other people’s work, Simons not only sourced his photos from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, but even cleared third-party rights with all the sitters. To be taken seriously and professionally, one must act professional—and such was the sentiment Simons seemed to have in mind when approaching this collection. As such, he was able to make something that’s more akin to a museum exhibit. “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,” Simons apparently said backstage yesterday. “I thought the biggest challenge would be to do it in my own environment.”
A challenge certainly, but one he pulled off swimmingly. Mapplethorpe’s images appeared as almost photographic color blocks on loose-fitting, expertly tousled button-down shirts—either worn alone, underneath cropped sweater vests and polos, or over leather pinafores. He cherry-picked some of Mapplethorpe’s most provocative images—of flowers and Debbie Harry, from his asphyxiation-tinged White Gauze series (1984) and his phallus-heavy photographic exploration of BDSM—and pasted them onto cropped boatneck tops worn on their own or peeping through oversized sweaters, on t-shirts, and on more pinafores of various lengths. One could even feel the trace of Mapplethorpe in the almost hurried way the clothes were styled, as if thrown on carelessly, while in a rush; in the sacks that were thrown over shoulders Patti Smith style; and in the thin belts that were tied loosely around necks.
Simons infused his collection with the subversive photographer ever so subtly and tastefully—and, in doing so, offered the world a chance to step out in the homoerotic and highly sexualized images that helped give photography the artistic clout it has today.
Stay tuned to Milk for more on the men’s spring 2017 collections.