Raf Simons’ Wearable Works of Art

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Raf Simons Robert Mapplethorpe shirt David Bryne
Photography, Concept & Set Design by Mirka Laura Severa

Why the Belgian designer took the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe from the gallery wall to the shop window

TextTed StansfieldPhotographyMirka Laura SeveraPhotographic EditorHolly Hay

Raf Simons x Robert Mapplethorpe T-Shirt

100% cotton

In 1985, Robert Mapplethorpe took a photograph of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. In it, Byrne wears a white granddad-collar shirt and a black suit, and poses at a 45-degree angle with his dark brown eyes fixed on the lens of the camera. It’s striking and quietly beautiful. 31 years later this image, among others by Mapplethorpe, was transposed onto a T-shirt featured in Raf SimonsS/S17 collection. In this offering, which was presented at New York Fashion Week in January, the Belgian designer adopted a curatorial approach, selecting photographs of flowers, portraits of celebrities and portrayals of black male nudes, and bringing them into his own context by printing them onto clothes.

What drove Simons to collaborate with the Mapplethorpe Foundation on this collection was a profound respect for the imagemaker, but also a desire to introduce his work to a new group of people. “I want to challenge myself also for the Foundation to hopefully make it believable to a different audience… [to] reach out to different generations, not only people who are following art,” he told Dazed Digital in a post-show interview. While many of Mapplethorpe’s photographs reside in art institutions and private locations, through this collection Simons has succeeded in bringing them once again into the public sphere, into people’s wardrobes and out onto the streets. In many ways, he’s set them free – free to shock, amaze and inspire a new generation.