Sébastien Meunier‘s spring-summer 2018 collection for Ann Demeulemeester was a clear message: a romantic ode to Robert Mapplethorpe, the late New York-based photographer. While some designers resign from mood-boards and straight-forward references, Meunier decided to fully convey his respect for the artist. In fact, the forever elusive persona of Mapplethorpe has much to do with Demeulemeester’s house-codes and legacy. For instance, the New Yorker of the 70s and 80s had an intense love relationship with Patti Smith – a muse and long-time friend of the brand’s founder. That’s quite a connection. Then, the dark aesthetic of Robert’s work and his personal style. Probably, if you could pick the best Ann Demeulemeester kind of man, then the choice would be clear. The clothes say it all: loosely-fit black trousers; sheer tank-tops; robes with a poet-like feel. But also, crumpled white shirts and lots of charms and pendants. Although Meunier definitely took the softer image of Mapplethorpe (distant from leather kinkiness), the designer succeeded reaching his goal.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki (backdrop: Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs).
It’s the first time in a while, when Pitti Uomo feels exciting. This season, the fashion editors and buyers have seen Gosha Rubchinskiy take on Italian culture; the same day, Raf Simons presented one of his most defining collections in his career. The standing fashion show for spring-summer 2017 was a special occasion – it was a nod to Robert Mapplethorpe, a controvertial American, who was known for his unconventional black-and-white photography. During his lifetime, the photographer shot such extraordinary characters as Patti Smith or Andy Warhol, but also, he was famous for his highly BDSM polaroids, flower still-lives (often compared to erect phallus) and nudes of female wrestlers.
The photographer, who began the cult of erotic photography in the 70s, was the main, well-visible and fully acknowledged reference point for Raf this season. Rather than simply putting famous Mapplethorpe photographs as prints on tops, Simons challenged himself to make his inspiration something much more profound. “Every boy is a representation of a piece of work” – this is how the designer described the models, with dark, curly hair and skinny black pants. Some looked like the original characters taken out of Mapplethorpe’s polaroids, wearing leather biker caps and voluminous, white shirts. Oh yes, the shirts. The over-sized silhouettes reassembled white walls of a gallery, perfectly exposing these defiant and somewhat deviant visuals. Debbie Harry, with a stern face, looked at you from under a cropped V-neck sweater; a penis photo on a striped t-shirt wasn’t a surprise, keeping in mind Robert’s late obsessions. Wherever you turned, you could sense respect for the photographer, coming from Raf’s heart. The focus was on the clothes – the images weren’t shouting, leaving space for the pieces to speak for themselves. It’s not a one-season-only type of collaboration between an artist (specifically, Mapplethorpe Foundation) and a fashion designer. It’s a collection, where everything is about the rebellious attitude, with a very clear, labelled reference. Other designers should take a note from Simons on how to name their inspirations, in order not to become accidental copycats.