Raf Simons has a very unique relationship with his sources of inspiration. Rather than using them as a mere starting point, he incorporates them in his own creations, keeps intact some of their elements, showcasing them for a wider audience. In some of his most well-known collections for Dior and for his own label, Simons used the work of other visual artists, particularly that of his long-time friend, Sterling Ruby, whose spray paintings inspired Simons´ debut collection at Dior in 2012. In 2014, the duo worked together on the Raf Simons’ menswear line for Fall, with patches, textile patterns and written embellishments borrowing Ruby´s visual aesthetics.
For the more recent Spring 2017 menswear line, Simons kept to this modus operandi, with a collection featuring photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe. After being welcomed into the archive at the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Simons took great care in contacting each of the subjects whose portraits he had chosen. This served the dual purpose of obtaining utilisation rights and allowing Simons to create a personal connection with the pieces he was researching. He then designed the collection in relation to how Mapplethorpe placed and framed his subjects, turning the photographs into subject matter on textile.
As a leading designer in today’s fashion industry, Raf Simons’ choice to merge classic tropes in visual aesthetics with more consumerist ones raises a larger question of appropriation in fashion: Can appropriated art maintain its aesthetic and cultural integrity?
In Simons’ case, the answer is: Yes. The nature of his relationship with the artists he chooses and with their work is symbiotic. In the case of Simons and Ruby, their shared creative starting points and mediums produce an atmosphere of mutual assistance. This type of collaboration widens the possibility for expression, creation, as well as access, by blurring the line between spaces, narratives, and audiences of the art and fashion worlds. One can assume that the designer and the artist share some similarity of thought and creative sensibility that leads to the intention to explore the artist´s oeuvre at the level of design and production.
Simons and Ruby both established their practices through the 1980s punk scene, sharing now a type of creative sensibility that lends itself to social commentary. The content and vectors of appropriation of artworks in fashion design acts as an erasure of conventional borders between different mediums, infusing a creative dialogue, many times with socially and culturally relevant ramifications.
Simons´ recent move to Calvin Klein leaves one wondering how much of this established choice of inspiration will the newly appointed Creative Director keep. The American powerhouse was built on classic tones, in line, shape, and colour, but that doesn’t mean that Simons will not have his work influenced by his interest for modern and contemporary art.
Words: Annunziata Santelli
Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu