When art gets invited onto the runway: Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby
Since the beginning of haute couture, fashion and art have woven close ties as with the creations of Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí or the Yves Saint Laurent dresses that pay homage to Piet Mondrian. Over the last ten years, the relationship between these two disciplines has intensified with runways being used as the new meeting ground. Thus, within the context of these ephemeral spaces presenting new collections, contemporary artists and designers are making extraordinary and memorable installations. Today, we look back at the decors imagined by Sterling Ruby for the Raf Simons and Calvin Klein runway shows.
By Léa Zetlaoui
From the moment they met in 2005, the Belgian designer Raf Simons and the German-American artist Sterling Ruby, established themselves as one of the most prolific duos in the worlds of art and fashion. One of their most striking examples remains the two strapless dresses made of green and pink acid-treated canvas - Sterling Ruby's signature process - for the first Dior haute couture collection signed by Raf Simons for fall-winter 2012.
Today Sterling Ruby is to contemporary art what Raf Simons is to fashion: a respected and even adulated star in his field. However, the artist who appeared on the cover of the last Numéro Art refutes such accolades. Closer than ever to the underground and the countercultures of LA, Sterling Ruby’s powerfully prolific work, in which sculptures, paintings, ceramics, textiles, collages and videos intersect, is all about mixing references to the history of art, crafts and industrial aesthetics. A hybridisation that echoes the oeuvre of Raf Simons, who studied industrial design before turning to fashion and whose complex collections with minimalist cuts and punk details regularly incorporate subtle references to art and architecture.
The perfect illustration of their approaches coming together as an enduring artistic tribute was the fall-winter 2014 runway show for Raf Simons’ own label, with a backdrop composed of sausages dressed in American flags - one of the artist’s favourite subjects -, colourful speckled clothes and abstract patches and the music of Pink Floyd punctuating the presentation. After taking over Calvin Klein’s artistic direction in 2016, Raf Simons naturally invited his artist friend to reinterpret the American heritage of this iconic label. Thus Sterling Ruby redesigned the Parisian showroom of the American house as well as the New York boutique through the prism of a partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation. He also created the sets for two fashion shows, one for the spring-summer season and the other for fall-winter 2018. The first was composed of fabric sculptures, wool fringes and small mobiles hanging from the ceiling, evoking the textile craftsmanship and industrial aesthetics so dear to Sterling Ruby while the second focused on a more dystopian landscape and featured giant sculptures by Ruby.
Before that, the duo had proposed a four-handed collection under the name of Raf Simons / Sterling Ruby in 2009. Ten years later, as a natural extension of his creative approach, the artist launched a solo fashion project with a first collection presented at the Pitti Uomo in Florence which synthesised his work in some fifty looks: deep America mixed with punk cultures. Raf Simons, who left Calvin Klein in 2018, has recently joined Prada as creative co-director.