20 Feb 2017


In his highly acclaimed Spring Summer ’17 show, Raf Simons chose to share the runway with the iconic artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Although this collaboration was not the first time Simons has chosen to work with and credit an artist, his approach to this project was from the outset very different.

Collaborating with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the designer jumped at the chance to work with images captured by the photographer famed for his intense, and at times, explicit portrayal of modern America. Such a partnership would involve curating a selection of images from the archive: “Cindy Sherman did it, David Hockney did it. But always in a gallery […] I am a fashion designer. I thought the biggest challenge would be to do it in my own environment”, says Simons.

Raf Simons chose to feature faces and people for the majority of his curation. This led to him to personally contact a fascinating cross-section of society in order to seek their consent. Speaking to these individuals who knew Mapplethorpe intimately, or even just in passing, contributed to a deeper understanding of the artist’s life and work.

The process became an interesting exercise both highlighting the differences between the fashion and art world whilst fusing the two together. “Fashion, you cannot compare it to curating an art exhibition in a gallery. It’s such a different thing. With fashion, you have the whole process of building up a collection” commented Simons in an interview with Alexander Fury for Vogue.

And what a collection it is. Each look features an image by Mapplethorpe. Whether featuring the individuals who he surrounded himself with, or Mapplethorpe’s flowers, the images still confront the same issues the photographer sought to highlight over a decade ago. The question faced was how to ‘frame’ the work within the medium of fashion without detracting from it. Simons admits that many of the final looks seem quite simple: “They always look pure, his photographs. There is never conflict; there is never an extreme setup. Even if he does a still life, there is never a complicated setup. To me, it was important, that I would not dominate—with the clothes, with the collection—the work.”

JOYCE Cabinet will showcase Raf Simons SS17 collection pieces alongside selected works of Robert Mapplethorpe from 8 February. To complement the display, all JOYCE store windows will feature pieces from Mapplethorpe’s floral still lifes.

Partnership done in collaboration with Artestar, a global brand licensing and creative consultancy representing elite art, fashion and design brands.


The theme of flowers is woven throughout Robert Mapplethorpe's oeuvre, coming to signify some of his deepest concerns as an artist. The photographs in Flowers (Bullfinch Press, 1990) range from images of the early 1980s to many taken in the months just before his death in 1989. The latter, in particular, are astounding in their intensity; here one finds both erotic drama and absolute clarity of composition - Mapplethorpe's gift at its most bold and uncompromising.


Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946, the third of six children. He received a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he produced artwork in a variety of media.

Mapplethorpe took his first photographs using a Polaroid camera. His first Polaroids were self-portraits and the first of a series of portraits of his close friend, the singer-artist-poet Patti Smith. During the mid-seventies, he acquired a large format press camera and began taking photographs of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. These included artists, composers, socialites, pornographic film stars and members of the S & M underground. Some of these photographs were shocking for their content but exquisite in their technical mastery.

During the early 1980s, Mapplethorpe’s photographs began a shift toward a phase of refinement of subject and an emphasis on classical formal beauty. During this period he concentrated on statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and formal portraits of artists and celebrities. He continued to challenge the definition of photography by introducing new techniques and formats to his oeuvre: color Polaroids, photogravure, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachomes and dye transfer color prints, as well as his earlier black-and-white gelatin silver prints.

Mapplethorpe produced a consistent body of work that strove for balance and perfection and established him in the top rank of twentieth-century artists. In 1988 he established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to protect his work, advance his creative vision and promote and fund the causes he cared about: exhibiting photography at the institutional level and medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV-related infection.


Born in Neerpelt, Belgium in 1968, Raf Simons graduated in Industrial Design and Furniture Design in 1991 and began working as a furniture designer for galleries and private interiors. Under the guidance of Linda Loppa, head of the Fashion Department of the Antwerp Royal Academy, he decided on a radical change in career path, becoming a self-trained menswear designer in 1995 and launching his Raf Simons label.

Simons’ first decade in the industry was highly acclaimed, earning him first prize Swiss Textiles Award in November 2003. Named Creative Director of Jil Sander (menswear and womenswear) in July 2005, until his exit in 2012. That same year, he took up a position as Creative Director of Christian Dior for women’s Haute Couture, Ready-to-Wear and Accessory collections.

On October 22, 2015, Raf Simons’ amicable resignation signaled an end to his three and a half year stint at the brand. "It is a decision based entirely and equally on my desire to focus on other interests in my life, including my own brand, and passions that drive me outside my work" stated the designer.