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Raf Simons’ work is deeply personal. In his illustrious 20-year career, the Belgian designer has used clothing to pay tribute to his favorite musicians, honor his ancestors and collaborate with artists he loves. His usual modus operandi was turned on its head for SS17, though, as Raf was approached by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, who asked if Simons would be willing to use Mapplethorpe’s seminal photo work in one of his collections.

For those not in the know, Robert Mapplethorpe was an American photographer whose work explored sexuality and homoeroticism, most controversially chronicling New York’s late-’60s BDSM scene. Simons, a longtime fan of the photographer, gleefully plastered Mapplethorpe’s photos onto every single look of his SS17 collection, which was unveiled during Pitti Uomo in Florence.

Raf Simons in full effect… #rafsimons #sotostore #pitti #pitti90 #florence @rafsimons

A video posted by phil_g (@phil_g) on

The venue for Simons’ show was an old Florentine train station, which, much like last season’s show in Paris, had been converted into a nightclub. The space was populated by mannequins sporting iconic Raf pieces, and filled with a thumping ’80s soundtrack and gloomy lighting. The show’s no-seats layout forced guests to jostle for a good view — just like at a jam-packed club. The perfect setting for a designer who’s been inspired by youth culture since day one.

Mapplethorpe’s photographs were seen on every one of the collection’s looks, most strikingly printed onto panels of huge, billowing shirts, many of which were worn half-on, half-off. The photographer’s themes of sexual exploration could be read in the rest of the collection, too, via leather pants, aprons and biker hats — and the belts which were unnervingly wrapped around many models’ necks. Rugby sweaters and knits were cropped and constructed to reveal more of Mapplethorpe’s photos printed underneath.

Oh, and there’s the above jacket, featuring one of Mapplethorpe’s photos of an erect penis.

Overall, a pretty small collection, with not much variation from core pieces. Simons is probably just enjoying himself before he inevitably takes on the Calvin Klein job, which is rumored to finally be confirmed mid-July.

Don’t forget to check out the recently-unveiled campaign for Simons’ FW16 collection, shot by longtime collaborator Willy Vanderperre.

Words by Alec Leach
Freelance Writer/Editor/Consultant

Alec Leach grew up in Brighton, England, but now lives in Berlin