Few artists have defined an era and an art form with the style of Robert Mapplethorpe, whose silvery Polaroids of the famous, the scandalous, the beautiful and the subversive are passports back into the glamour and madness of 70s and 80s New York. From his portraits of friends and collaborators such as Grace Jones, Andy Warhol, Arnold Schwarzenegger and of course Patti Smith, to his more experimental and visceral images toying with and documenting the sexual proclivities of the burgeoning gay scene in the city, his work is iconic in the true sense of the word, making for an extraordinary landmark in the portrayal of identity, fetish and desire. So far, so famous. However, a new show opening at London's Alison Jacques gallery this week explores Mapplethorpe's extensive fashion collaborations, ranging from his work with French and Italian Vogue, through to his friendships with many of the key members of the fashion set, to whom he was introduced by his first boyfriend, the model David Croland, who has co-curated the show.
"Fashion Show forges a new perspective both on Mapplethorpe's work and interests, but also on the man himself"
With an artist so famous and widely beloved, it is rare to have the opportunity to get a new angle on their work, but through Croland's commentary and with the additions of previously un-exhibited pieces, Fashion Show forges a new perspective both on Mapplethorpe's work and interests, but also on the man himself. Via the testimony of the first man he fell in love with, we see the young photographer's gradual insertion into the society with which he is now synonymous, meeting Karl Lagerfeld, Loulou de la Falaise and Marisa Berenson, visiting Yves Saint Laurent in Paris and creating his own line of jewellery. We see the way style and form influenced his work both in the fashion world and beyond. And, pivotally, we understand more fully the transformation from the exquisite full-lipped boy who stood shyly on the fire escape of the Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith, to 1980's defiant profile shot of the artist drenched in furs and full drag maquillage.
Text by Tish Wrigley