Rouse Visiting Artist Lecture: Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby with Jessica Morgan

Rouse Visiting Artist Lecture: Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby with Jessica Morgan

It is with great pleasure to
welcome and introduce our three esteemed guests tonight. Tonight’s conversation
is the final event of this spring’s Rouse Artists
Visiting Lecture Series. The Rouse Series
illuminates new perspectives on the built
environment by sharing the work of a broad range
of visual artists, writers, directors and other
creatives at the GSD. This semester the Rouse
Visitors of this semester have included Sarah
Oppenheimer, Kahlil Joseph, and Otobong Nkanga. Such events hold
particularly importance because they offer our
community the opportunity to engage with a plurality
of design methodologies and cultural practices that
enrich our investments here at the school. Before I introduce
tonight’s speaker, I’d like to mention that
our last event of the spring semester will be
tomorrow here in Piper, April 24, at 6:30, by the
landscape architect Stig L. Andersson, who’ll be giving a
talk entitled “After Nature.” Tonight’s event
is a conversation with Raf and Sterling Ruby,
moderated by Jessica Morgan. Jessica Morgan is the
Nathalie Gunzburg director of the Dia Art Foundation. Since joining the
Dia in January 2015, Morgan has helped
advance the Dia’s mission by presenting an array of
new and exciting programs, such as the Dream House
by La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and Jung
Hee Choi, as well as new exhibitions of works
by Robert Reimann, Hanne Darboven, Kishio Suga, and
Francois Morellet in New York City. She has held two previous
curatorial positions at the Tate Modern from 2002
to 2010, and from 2010 to 2015. Morgan was also the artistic
director of the 10th Annual Gwangju Biennale in 2014. She also held previously
the chief curator at the Institute
of Contemporary Art in Boston, where she
organized exhibitions by, among others, Carsten Holler,
Ellen Gallagher, Olafur Eliasson, Marlene Dimas, Kerry
James Marshall, and Cornelia Parker. Sterling Ruby was born
in Bitburg, Germany. He graduated in 1996 from
the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design. He received his BFA in 2002 from
the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 2005,
he received his MFA from the Art Center College
of Design in Pasadena. His work has been featured
in numerous solo and group exhibitions. Raf has led varied and
distinguished tenureships at some of the world’s most
notable fashion houses. Raf currently serves as
the chief creative officer at Calvin Klein Inc.,
and in this role, Mr. Simons leads the creative
strategy of the Calvin Klein brand globally across the
designer contemporary bridge, underwear, and home categories. In addition to overseeing all
aspects of the global marketing and communications,
he also oversees the visual creative
services and store design. Simons was born in
Belgium, where he later studied and obtained a degree in
industrial design and furniture design. In 1995, he launched his
eponymous line Raf Simons. In 2005, he was appointed
the creative director of Jill Sander, where he served
at the helm for several years. Mr. Simons assumed the
position of creative director at Dior in 2012, a position
he held until 2015. Sorry, I just need a
quick glass of water. Tonight’s conversation will
take as a point of departure, the collaborative practice
between Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby. Sterling’s work is
visceral and beguiling. Sterling shapes new forms
with material plasticity, playing with scale and
mixing mediums and media. Raf has had a striking imprint
on men’s wear and fashion through his eponymous
avant garde men’s line and with his leadership
of high fashion houses. His work wields masterful
tailoring, asymmetrical shapes, oversized silhouettes, and
pop culture references, to balance traditional codes
with progressive aesthetics and cultural awareness. While both Raf and
Sterling have spearheaded their own respective
crafts and disciplines, declarative, the
collaboration speaks of their shared affinities of
clothes, art, and environments, a willingness to break with
traditional disciplinary silos and an enduring friendship. Over the last decade,
they have closely worked on unique collaborations,
in 2008 the Raf Simons Tokyo store, in 2010 their
capsule collection, in 2013, as most of you
have probably seen, the documentary Dior and I,
collaborating on Simons’ debut collection for
Dior’s haute couture where Sterling’s SP paintings
were the basis of a custom silk fabric used to create
three dresses and one coat. In 2014, they presented,
which is actually my personal favorite, the Raf
Simons, Sterling Ruby menswear, a full fall winter collection
at Paris Fashion Week. The collection featured bleach
splattered denim, produced at Sterling’s studio, as
well as graphic elements and sweatshirts,
coats, and t-shirts. With both names on the
label, this collaboration visualized shared
ideas of deconstruction and reconstruction, in a
collaging of visual motifs. For me, it is their most
recent collaboration with the American Fashion
House, Calvin Klein that has synthesized the relationship
between clothes, art, and environments at a scale
unmatched in their previous collaborations. In 2017, Raf’s American
Classics campaign, photographed by Willy
Vanderperre showcases Calvin Klein’s signature pieces,
denim jeans, cotton tanks, and briefs, in
combination with works by famous artist, Andy
Warhol, Dan Flavin, and of course, Sterling Ruby. In the same year,
he asked Sterling to create a new
aesthetic language for their brand, a series
of signature motifs that reflected the light
and dark sides of Americana. But most notably,
Sterling’s total room works for the showroom at
Calvin Klein Headquarters, in New York flagship
store, display his ability to work across mediums, to
produce environments that operate as immersive collages. In the headquarters, soft
sculptures, fabric, metal, and glass choreograph a rich
environment of graphic surfaces juxtapose and integrated with
fragments of Americana motifs. In the flagship store, a vibrant
yellow coats the interior surfaces while scaffolding
of the same color is deployed
throughout the space, as an infinite substrate
collage with Americana motifs, products, figurines,
and ornamental tapestry. The spatial scaffolding
is fresh and inventive, by taking a typical
structure often found in the context of New
York City, a ready made and allowing it to be
contextual and transformative, symbolizing a moment in time
in its imminent undoing, to reveal new fronts. In both cases, we
see the undertones of previous collaboration
between Raf and Sterling and how fashion has scaled
up spatially and art has scaled down to occupy
the body or vice-versa. The years of collaborative
work is a cross section in how art and
fashion, two distinct and cultural creative
practices cross-pollinate through references, inspiration,
appropriation, and spaces. The specific combination
of their visual languages, processes, and identities
produces a transcendence of both disciplines of art and
fashion, and in their own way Raf and Sterling are
together reconfiguring the cultural landscape. I’ve talked long enough. So let’s welcome, Raf, Sterling,
and Jessica to the stage. Thank you, Sean. And thank you
everybody here at GSD. You’ve done a fantastic job
of organizing tonight’s event. I’m very honored to be here. My job is really just
to ask questions. So I’ll try and talk
as little as possible. I think you’ve said
many great things, Sean. And I agree with you,
the 2014 collection, that was a highlight. But I mean, for me certainly,
one of the extraordinary things about your collaboration
is on the one hand, the length of time that
you’ve worked together, which is very unusual. We’ve had many examples of art
and fashion coming together. But this is no, sort of
slapping an image on a handbag, this is something that’s really
developed over many years and on many platforms,
which I think is the other fascinating part
of how you’ve worked together. It’s not image on product. It’s really something
that’s been integrated into so many different ways in
which you’ve worked together, and I hope that’s really
what we can talk about today. But to backtrack, I know
we have some people here who are probably extraordinary
experts, probably far more so than me, in
fact, in both of your work. But having talked to
you a bit, I certainly have things that I want
to hear you speak about. But perhaps for those
who are not so familiar, we can actually begin at
the beginning, so to speak. And if I understand
correctly, you really met Raf really as a collector,
looking at your work, Sterling. And you met in LA in sort
of different circumstances, not as collaborators, but
really as collector and artist. And I assume that at
that point, you also discovered this peculiar
coincidence that in fact you grew up in areas not
that far from each other, in somewhat similar
circumstances, with a military
background, but also a small, semi rural environment. And I was wondering if you
can just talk a bit about how you met and evolved as– how that conversation I
suppose evolved initially. You can’t do that all night. Hi, everybody. [laughter] Raf and I first met at
my studio in Los Angeles. This was a studio that was
maybe 10 or so more years ago, actually many,
maybe 14 years ago. And I had been working with a
very, kind of a gallery in Los Angeles, called Mark Fox. And Mark Fox brought Raf to
the studio for a studio visit, and this is something that
doesn’t happen all the time. And when it does
happen, it’s always a kind of awkward situation
for me to bring somebody into such a private space. And the thing that
was completely different about the first
studio that I did with Raf was that we really got
alongside extremely well. And over the years, we started
to talk about how we grew up, what we had experienced, and we
started to understand that we had a lot of
commonalities together, growing up in mostly
rural settings, even though I was
in Pennsylvania. He was in Belgium. My mother was Dutch,
and she had grown up in this little
town called Nuenen, which is close to Eindhoven. And all of my family
still lives there. And it turns out that we
actually, only about 20 minutes away from each other in the
Netherlands and in Belgium. Right. Well I had bought some ceramics
from him in the early days, not knowing who he
was, and Mark Fox was his gallerist whom
I was very close friends with already, and I
rarely do studio visits. I still don’t know
why, because actually I find them very interesting
and fascinating. And Mark said I think
you should meet Sterling. It was very much Mark
saying you should come. you should come. And I don’t remember
exactly, but I do remember it was just before
you showed your first paintings or when you just showed
your first paintings. So you probably know
better the timing. And the rest you said
already, so we became friends. And it’s not that we saw
each other all that time, but we would stay in touch. And there was also a
period I was going a lot to LA more than
now unfortunately, due to the work circumstances. And we would always see each
other when we would go to LA. And that’s how it started. I was sort of interested
in both of your pasts in terms of sort of
how you developed and perhaps the figures
that were important for you. Sterling, probably Mike Kelly
being a very important figure and Van Beirendonck
for you, Raf. But Sterling, you’ve often
talked to me about also reacting against your teachings
or your father’s, so to speak, or mother’s. The minimal tradition,
in particular, and how that sort of process of
responding against, I suppose, your teaching, was a very
important development. But I wondered if there was any
of that for you as well, Raf? I mean you had this sort
of extraordinary context in Belgium with a
real moment obviously that we’re still living with. But was there something that
you were also reacting against? Well if it comes to art, I
was not reacting against. I think I was very much
trying to be informed, trying to go deeply into it. I go back to a Belgian curator. His name is Jan Hoet, who did
a very interesting exhibition in a town called Ghent,
called [non-english speech].. He invited incredible artists
into the private houses of people. And during the summer, you could
just visit during weekends, mainly I remember. You could visit the houses. So certainly all art
that we kind of knew was in the domestic
environments, which was very, very interesting. And ever since, I think I
kind of got obsessed with art, in a way, and just informed
myself more and more and more about, especially
contemporary art and the early generation
of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, Cindy
Sherman, Richard Prince, you know like the
kind of generation that was shaping up at the
time that I started looking. Bruce Nauman also. And shortly, after
he did documenta, which I also went to see,
which was incredible. At the same time, I
entered industrial design. So I’m not a graduate of
fashion designer at all. I studied industrial design,
graduated with furniture, almost ended up
doing car design. And when I graduated, there
was another important thing happened in Belgium, which
I think is important to say. There were six
Belgian designers who had teached in the one
direction from a woman called Linda Loppa at Antwerp Academy. I think most of you know
most of these names, the most famous ones, Martin Margiela,
Dries van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Van
Saene, Marina Yee, and Ann Demeulemeester. And they kind of
grouped themselves and started showing
together in London, and it made the big buzz
on the international scene. And I think for a lot of us,
for lots of my generation, it became something– I don’t know, to kind
of aspire, or something. I was already in
industrial design. At the same time, I knew that
I couldn’t really find my way. So I knew I will have to go to
Italy maybe to find producers or to find people who can
help me with my furniture. At the same time there was
this whole thing happening in Antwerp around me basically. And that’s when I
thought, you know what, let’s give it a shot. And that’s when I started
designing clothes. Inspiring, but it must also
have been quite overwhelming, I mean, as a sort of
conceptual level of work. Those designers,
it’s interesting how you’re describing this dual
trajectory of being interested and engaged with an artistic
practice that was highly conceptual, as well as being in
the midst of these designers, who were obviously playing
with the boundaries of fashion in a way that I think most
people had not become used to. Can also be how to find your
own space but within that is a difficult conundrum perhaps. I think I was way too
naive at that point to be– To worry about it. To worry about it. I also never really
saw any of them highly conceptual
except one, personally. I did have a strong feeling
about being reactive. I definitely felt like I do not
want my stuff looks like any of them, since day one. And so what happened between– you met, and then
asking Sterling to design the store in Tokyo. I mean, obviously something
must have happened in between. You had been
speaking, but I mean, it felt like a
logical move for you to invite him at that point? I mean, you had
never done anything like that, to my
knowledge right, Sterling? No, I hadn’t. No, this was really
a kind of culmination of a number of years of just
hanging around the fireplace, you know, figuratively,
but also literally. I started continuing to visit
family in the Netherlands. I also started exhibiting
throughout Europe pretty frequently, and
between Raf’s trips to Los Angeles and
my trips to Belgium, we really understood that we
had a lot of like similarities, both in the scenarios
of the things that we found most influential. And when you approached
me to do the store, I think because I had
never done anything like that before, I
took it in a direction that I think was mostly like
how do you collapse space? And how do you make it
desirable enough that people want to go in and kind of shop? So it was, for me, an initiation
into this problem solving scenario that didn’t really have
the same principles that making a piece of sculpture
or a painting did. I think if we go that
much back in time, maybe even before the Tokyo
store, we did not want to or we did not dare to
say things to each other that we actually
maybe already felt. We were very interested
in each other’s practices. Maybe we had a desire to do
things that people could not see us doing, like
he might have had already an interest in clothes. Actually, he did. I know it now. And I might have had already
an interest in all of things than clothes. So it was a very Bauhausian
kind of thinking in a way, if you now try to kind of maybe
put it in a more intellectual– Maybe a history. It doesn’t work. You know what I mean? But at that time,
it wasn’t like that. We wouldn’t talk about
it in that way at all. Actually, we still don’t. It’s just something that
I think that maybe we were too afraid or too shy to
already speak about it, that we were interested to and enter
into each other’s worlds far more than when you see
collaborations these days. And I think it has a lot
to do with the friendship, but also with the interest
in each other’s practice and trust, because
I am a person who is extremely interested in
other people’s body of work, but not necessarily to a point,
that I would say oh, come, let’s do a label together. It’s not even [inaudible]
Raf Simons for that season. It’s [inaudible] you and me
together for that season, or a year, or five years,
whatever we might still do. And I think that’s
the big difference. I think for the longest
time we had a friendship, and we had a like
minded set of standards that we kind of followed, things
that we found influential. But I agree with Raf that
for such a long time, I think that we looked at
each other’s perspective, choices to be completely
opposite of one another, just the industries of
them seemed at odds. I don’t know about
you, but I started to realize that from a
conceptual kind of scenario, I always believed the collage
from a historical lineage, you know if you look at
Picasso or Schwitters, it’s like this
idea that you force us things that
weren’t necessarily meant to go into one another,
that this like illicit merger created a new hybrid. And I think you and I
started to see people doing things that
were cross-pollinating between art and fashion,
but not doing it very well. I think that in lots of cases,
it’s not a natural desire. It’s not a natural
going together. I think it’s very often just
a decision that is a business decision, very often. There might be maybe
something that triggers, like a design, who was
interested in an artist, but then all the rest, it’s
like a package to sell. I think we never really had
that intention, and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t work,
it doesn’t work. It was a natural desire. I also, in the
early days, when I started to come in
his environment, I immediately felt that
he was somebody who makes this total environment. It’s not only about a sculpture
or the painting or the collage. It’s an environment,
an attitude. It’s a very unique point of
view about the body of work and everything that surrounds
it and everything and everybody, even, who enters it
and connects to it. That’s also how I’d like
to see my own things. It doesn’t really matter who
it is at the end of the day. It’s how you kind
of bring it out. Sterling, you didn’t feel
any sense of taboo crossing into the world of fashion. The questions
around whether it’s to do with form of commodity,
disinterest perhaps in the unique object,
which most of the art world is built around, this
mythology of the unique form. I imagine there must have been
some moment where you felt ooh. I was– [inaudible] Yeah, yeah. Well, no, it’s true, because
I had a lot of hesitation, but it wasn’t me hesitating. It was a lot of people
around me hesitating. I mean, you know I had
art dealers just blatantly saying this is a bad idea. Don’t do this. And I have to say, prior
to my knowledge with Raf, I had really loved this notion
of, like, centered Bauhaus structure, and I had been
making my own clothes. But I wasn’t thinking
of them as fashion. And I had been
making environments, but I was thinking of
them like in this kind of historical predecessor
of like the ‘8 instillation movement. And I think over time, I
started to feel so disheartened by the idea of what
art was becoming. And if there is like a
commodification within fashion, there were certainly
the commodification happening 10 years ago with art. And I started to just see it be
somewhat cynical, and ironic, and kind of blasphemous. And at that point, I
really just kind of decided that we had been friends
for such a long time. And we had had so many
great discussions about what we could do, not necessarily
thinking about it in a lineage of
compartmentalizations, but just whatever we
wanted to do we could do. And it became something
that we started to base, you know, off of craft,
ideology, conceptual practices, but not necessarily believe
that it was one or the other. You’ve both expressed to
me that you felt liberation in each other’s
spheres in some way, that the confines of
the realm that you’re most familiar with
were then in some sense removed when you entered
into the relative world of the other, which
is interesting. But you are just beginning
to touch on that, Sterling. Maybe you can both
speak, how does it work on a practical level? I mean, obviously, doing
the store was one thing, but then as you began to think
about producing the collection together, I mean that’s a
completely different level of collaboration in terms
of process, and thinking, and production. You were not living
in the same places. Trust. I think, otherwise
it’s not possible. And you share. I mean these days, there was
a lot of ways to share things, you know. It wasn’t always very strategic. I mean, when we started
developing ideas for the store, when we started developing ideas
for, you know, the collection. I mean anybody who’s
seen Dior and I will remember the scene
where like Raf takes a photo of the dress. I’m going to call you
out here a little bit. But I don’t know if you’ve
noticed like the phone that Raf was using at the time. It’s this old flip phone. And you know, I mean
for a long time, we would exchange any way
possible through DHL, FedEx, WhatsApp, texting, sending
emails between staffs. I mean, at one point
in time, it really felt like we had merged
the two studios together. I mean Bianca is here, and
Tyler is right behind her. The two studios really became
this kind of homogenized, everybody was working with
one another on these projects. Quite literally, would
members of your studios go back and forth? Yes, but I think we never really
felt any hierarchy in like who should do what amount. I mean, obviously when
he was doing store, he was taking a big
amount, I would say 99%. For him, when we
did the collection, I was taking a big amount on me. That’s how the studio
was structured. Like no matter what
we do together, one has more expertise
or experience or is better structured. But it’s no problem for us. I think if that would be like
a problem, it could never work, because yeah, we’re
obviously not together. I like the fact that some
of it was so low tech. We would print things
out, send it via FedEx, and then the next day,
we’d get like a cell phone, you know, snap of that
print out wrapped and pinned around a model. For me, it was really exciting. It was instantaneous. It wasn’t so premeditative. And it really became
something that was very– it was open, but was something
that I didn’t have an art, and I don’t necessarily know if
it was something that Raf had. It’s a very different– I mean, obviously you
have a large studio, Sterling, with many
people working there. Raf, you collaborate
on many levels in a way with many different people. But this collaboration you
see is completely different, the type of activity. It’s very intimate
between two of us. I think we usually keep it very
between us in the first stage, and then it becomes
very technical. But first of all, like I
said, there was no hierarchy. Here are things
the most important, also not in the
thinking process. I mean, for me. I believe very strongly
in collaboration. Even if I launched
my brands, and I ran towards basically alone
as a creative person. I have assistants, obviously. But I do think that what is
really interesting for me, I always question if
I think for myself, I hope it doesn’t
sound pretentious. I think I have a great idea. If I can share it with
somebody whose work and person I admire, and it comes
together, it’s a great idea. It’s a better idea then. If we both love it,
it must be even better than when I love it. That’s what I think. I had almost the opposite. Well, I will say that
I’m not a collaborator. I’m really not a collaborator. If I hadn’t had the history
of my friendship with Raf and knowing that we were on
the same level with one another in terms of what we wanted,
what we liked, I couldn’t do it. You know, I do have a pretty big
studio and a relatively large staff, but
essentially the studio makes whatever I want to make. And when I started working
with Raf, it was kind of– I didn’t really feel like
it was a collaboration. I just felt like it was a
continuation of our friendship and our trust in one another. So when you were working
on the collection in 2014 or the months preceding
that, were you also patent cutting, Sterling? I mean, was it as open as that? Telling me how to do it. Yeah. Well, I mean, yes, yes. No, it was really
exciting, because you know, I have to say going back
to one of your questions about it being taboo, even
though, even when I was 13, my mother gave me my
first sewing machine. I grew up in this very
small town in Pennsylvania, and it was taboo. Like it was totally taboo. And it was still taboo
when I was in my mid-30s and these art people were
telling me don’t do that. It doesn’t have the same
level of context and content. And I think for me,
it was understanding that somebody like Raf or
somebody like Rick Owens, these are people who
think analytically about what they do. And the industry
is something that’s kind of outside
of this periphery, but the internal kind of
like composition of it is something so analytical and
so thoughtful that it to me, felt natural to do it with Raf. And I think, even now, it’s
like, we had a two hour phone conversation a
couple of weeks ago. And it was just going
through print outs that we had sent each other
and essentially saying, yeah, I like that. No, I don’t like that. Yeah, I like that. And one of the
things I really like is when we get to something that
we kind of have to debate on, and sometimes it’s on Raf,
and sometimes it’s on me. So I think clothes in
their most exciting form can potentially change the way
you move, the way you think, the way you’re perceived. How did you go about thinking
about that collection in 2014? What was your goal, I suppose,
in a way with that collection? Beyond the collaboration,
what was it that you wanted to
achieve with that? That’s a difficult
question, because I think that was so personal. That was so much about
just coming together of the body of work that,
how I understood him, and from what I was hoping that
he was kind of also wanting to share, I was wondering how
far does he want to share. And because obviously,
I was very interested in the actual body of work,
also, how it’s materialized, how it’s build up. In all honesty,
for the people that do know that
collection well, this is a very atypical
collection for us as well for fashion
in general, I think, the way quite some of
the pieces were built up. There was a base that you can
almost kind of see as a canvas, let’s say. But then we collaged
a lot of things on it, and we want to do
it in a way, as respectful as possible
to his body of work, but at the same time,
you need to also have a free hand in a way,
and feel as if me and the team could connect to
him and the team, not even being
physically together. And I think that was
the nicest experience. I think, I see Bianca, my
CEO smiling, those weeks and evenings and nights
that we are doing that, because lots of the things was
also listening to each other. When you do a
collection together, there is already a body
of work that exists or Raf Simons’ body of
rock exists already, a Sterling Ruby body
of work exists already. It didn’t matter for me what
the materialization would be or where it would
be placed, I mean. It could as well have been an
art installation somewhere. It just turned out to
be a fashion collection. And we then also
followed all those rules. Let’s do bands. Let’s do shoes. Let’s do t-shirts. Let’s do coats. Let’s do a show. Let’s style the show together. He came to Paris. We sat together. We casted the boys. And there was a very,
very nice experience. Very, very nice. Very new to me because
it was very interesting, an interesting challenge
for me, although I knew that I would do
that with him as well, to sometimes step
back and say, OK, now I really, if I would say this
is really how I see this now, this is how it’s
going on the runway, and I can be quite specific, I
think, and if he would say no, we want that, I would
kind of go for it. I would say, OK, we
do that and that. And that worked well actually. So I think there was a lot of– when you are in your
rhythm and in your system, because I think lots of
things become a system. When you a musician,
you do your music. When you’re a designer,
you do your fashion. When you’re an artist, you
do your sculpture, painting, or whatever. It’s over the years,
it can become a system. And sometimes, it’s interesting
to allow somebody in, who looks at it in a
very different way, and who kicks you a
bit from your pedestal. If you are allowing that, it
can be very interesting results. I have to be honest, that’s
one of my favorite connections I every did. And that’s also a thing
because of, you know, like you see it becomes
something different. And you see afterwards all
the energy from all the people who have seen it. And I think it
was also very much because of what it was, not
only because of those two unit. And it also, it was
these two ideologies of kind of looking at
other past collaborations and really wanting ours to
kind of represent craftsmanship and to kind of look at it being
this kind of handmade tactile sense of the way
things were rinsed, the way things were treated, the
way things that were patched. All of those things had
this kind of history and in what Raf and
I had kind of lived through in terms of our youth. And I think that that was a
kind of interesting theme, because I think Raf feels
this way, and I feel this way. When I was 13, and I
was wearing something, it kind of gave me
a behavioral power. I never thought
of it as fashion. I just thought of it as
this kind of, significance of how you enter the world and
enter the public and the way that you like weirdly
present yourself. And one of the
things that I really loved about the collection
is that afterwards, I had no idea that it was going to
be, you know, so sought after. You saw it. Like you saw it on the street. You don’t see that
with art, really. I mean I love making
sculpture, and I love the idea that somebody would maybe
live with that sculpture, but this is different. This is completely different. It’s actually this
kind of behavioral kind of case study of how people
present themselves in public. And when you see them
wearing something that we’ve kind of
handmade together, it’s just like, it’s kind
of this moment of pride in a weird way. To what degree, just to
talk about the structure of the world of fashion
in comparison to art. I mean, the speed
of change of change is exponentially faster despite
recent changes in what we could call the art world. Have you been
interested in talking about ways in which
to counter that, or is it not, maybe it’s not
something you wish to counter? Are there aspects that you
want to intervene in some way? Yeah, I think we do. Yeah. But I think we don’t know yet. I think that’s something
that’s like a kind of long term conversation. And sometimes it’s
very, you know conceptual and just dreamy. Other times, it’s like
looking at a listing for a 200-acre farm, and
saying that this is it. Let’s make it there. I think that’s also
part of what it came of over many years of
talking, that is not only like the– it’s also the
frustration, I guess, you know like that kind of like
fuck the system and all this, and the speed, and the demands,
and all these kind of things. And sometimes I
don’t really like to share that with all
the fashion people. But then I like to
share it with him. He can feel same thing, but
in a complete different thing. So then I feel like
ah maybe it’s not so bad with the fashion thing. Maybe. No, I think at some point, I
think at some point, we will– we’ve already talked about it. But I think at some
point, it would be time to kind of create something that
is autonomous in and of itself without a kind of
genre attached to it or without an industry
attached to it. I don’t know what that is. We don’t know what that is yet. But I think it’s something
that we kind of talk about it every month
and how that culminates into something physical. Hopefully we’ll see in
the next 10, 20 years. I was doing reading
that I don’t normally do, more about fashion,
and it struck me, I mean, extraordinarily
blatantly that there is no critical writing in fashion. I mean, everything was fabulous. And it was kind
of shocking to me. I have to say,
even though I have to say the state
of art criticism has sunk drastically in
the last few decades, but the degree to which
there was really no air space for critical language. But I wonder how
you deal with that. Is it a conversation
between the two of you? It used to be. They used to be
critical, reporting, but they kicked them out. People don’t really like
to read about fashion also, unfortunately. Well I don’t
necessarily know if– I mean, if you look at Cathy
Horyn versus Roberta Smith, they’re both brilliant. Cathy Horyn writes lengthy
critiques of fashion, but they think what’s happening
in both art and fashion, is that Raf is right,
that contingent of analytical writing
that really breaks down what’s happening and kind
of offers it a critique. That’s happening less now
than it did in the past. But I think in art, too. I think that’s true. I just wondered how
for you, afterwards to have a kind of forum in which
to think about what you’ve done and how to position that
and then also learn from it, I suppose. But that’s not necessarily
coming from critical writing, but it was striking to me. I wish there were way more
critical writing in fashion. I wish, I wish, wish. It’s not possible anymore. The system is too complicated
right now, I think. But I also say that
am I’m starting to experience an entirely
different generation, a very young generation,
who’s very much at ease with this kind of
cross-pollination, this hybridization of
all things aesthetic, all things cultural,
all things territorial. I think that will happen. I think the kind of analytic,
theorizing of all things, you know, hybrid will happen. It’s just weirdly,
it seems like it’s going to happen from a
much younger generation. Maybe you can talk a
little bit about we’re seeing lots of
images of what’s been a sort of complicated,
more recent stage in your collaboration
with both the stores, but also the shows that
you’ve done together. I’m aware of the fact
that we’re in GSD. There’s probably a lot
of architecture students here, who are feeling
like why Sterling Ruby, why not one of the
architects in this world. How have you developed
that confidence, I suppose, of the language of the
environment that you’ve built the architectural
environment that you’ve built? And Raf, I suppose
for you, why have you decided to continue
in that direction, and not yourself,
as you describe came from both a product
design and furniture design background, but you decided
to work outside of the norm, let’s say, of that discipline? May I also be very honest,
first of all, there was already a build up to this. And I like to work with
people I believe in. And I like to keep on working
with the people I believe in. But besides that, I
have to also be honest. I hope it’s not going
to offend anybody. If only it could be me
promoting uniqueness is that I knew I would get
something completely unique if I would work with Sterling. I have been dealing
with architects that need to do something
that relates to my fashion environments, whether if it’s
a show, a home, or a shop, or shop home, whatever. And in the first meetings, they
come with glass, or concrete, or wood, or marble,
and which marble, and the colors of the marble. I’m like, please, can you stop? We have to start in
a very different way, I think, because
right now, I think, what is very important
to talk about I think is the actual environmental
experience when you talk retail these days, because it seems
to be under attack with all the online experience. And I do think that
the experience is still very important. But then I think, also, that
we who are all responsible, should stick out our neck and
make it a unique experience, physically, visually. And that’s why I
reached out to him. Obviously, we do work with
a group of architects, let’s not forget. Actually they were trained here. Yeah, I think it’s– Yeah. I think it’s important to
point out that logistically we do we work with architecture
research office with Stephen and Adam. And you know, logistically
we could never do the things that
we want to do, particularly with you know,
like the Madison Avenue, you know the real renovation
of Madison Avenue. But that’s difficult,
too, because I’ve worked with a lot of
architects, and Raf is right. For the most part,
you wind up getting this list of commonality,
materials, shapes, spaces. But the architects that
we work with are very, you know, I mean in a weird way
their portfolio is represented by art collaboration. So you know, they did,
the Judd Foundation, they’re doing the Rothko Chapel. I mean this is a firm
that actually works very well with the two of
us, and that doesn’t always happen either. So in a weird way, it also
is contingent upon finding a firm that is liberal
and flexible enough that they can work
with the two of us and kind of interpret ideas. It took a while to find
them, or was that somebody you were familiar with? We looked at some people. I think it’s not so much
about the body of work that I’ve been doing. I think is more about how
much understanding they have of what we want to do. Yeah. It’s funny when we
have meetings with ARO, we bring up a lot of different
art references or fashion references or even
material references. As a sculptor, it’s something
that I want to kind of explore with an architect,
how do you engineer a material that you haven’t
ever put up on a wall, you know. And they’re very
good at interpreting how we want to work, and how
we want to kind of translate those material suggestions into
something that’s engineered and physical and safe. And for the shows that
you’ve been doing together, which in a way, I mean I suppose
are perhaps the closest meeting point in terms of when
we think of performance and the temporality of it. How have you gone about
choreographing that moment together, or how
has that evolved? Calvin? At Calvin or at Raf? Well, I suppose both, but I’m
thinking of the recent Calvin show, I mean, there was
a very large structure. There was a environment that had
a very specific quality to it. Is that, again, is
it collaboration from the beginning, or is
this more your direction, Raf? No, I think that when we started
working as Calvin together on space, it was
more in our interest to define space besides
me defining the clothes or the campaigns or the costs. And so we were not
specifically talking about a show only or a
one moment situation. So we started working,
actually, first on one full floor
in the building. We own a full
building, and one floor is a floor that he completely
redid from scratch, which is show room floor, and where
we are now also inviting press, and we’re also working
on the show preps. And out of that came that
he also did the actual show space in the building
and more collaborations will come in or out
of the building. Then Madison thought,
because I don’t know if it was ever
publicly announced, yellow medicine is temporary. We are actually working
since quite a long time on the real medicine, which
takes more time to innovate. And all approaches coming
up, but then everywhere where that language has been
shaped up all over the world, it has been Sterling and
Sterling’s team who did that. I mean, in department stores
and in all the retail places. Yes. I think it was also, it
was an interesting time when Raf decided to take the
position at Calvin Klein, because Calvin Klein
represented something historical in America. I don’t know how to
say it totally right, but it had also had this
like kind of dormant phase. And when Raf and I
first started talking about what we could do
together at the brand, I think that we started to
understand like this was a way to fuck with Americana
and to kind of use that as a kind of push for
American fashion, which most recently had been kind
of like at an all time low. And to try and create icons
for this fashion brand at that time in such like
global turmoil in the way that America was represented
was kind of dangerous, but also exciting to kind of
bring in certain motifs, think about the way that
spaces were devised, think about what a 15-minute
runway show could be like. All of these things
started to, you know, I think for
the two of us started to create an identity
for the brand, which in totality, that’s
what we wanted to do. We wanted to make
everything seem like it was a kind of branding motif. I think it’s a good
moment to open up. I’m sure there are
lots of questions. There are some people who
have mics wandering around. If you want to raise your
hands, someone with a mic has to run upstairs to
this gentleman there. Can you all hear me? I think it’s being recorded. And so if you can wait for
the mic, that would be great. Thank you. Thank you so much. Raf, welcome to Harvard first. How are you? As you mentioned
before, you know how you were like into furniture
first industrial design before even to fashion. I want to know, what was it
like for you as a teenager? So kind of going off of topic. Because I notice you focus a
lot with your work on the youth, pop culture, futuristic design. But like I want
to know like, how were you growing up as a kid? Was you a good kid? Was you bad, was you reckless? You know, like because
it’s really important, because oftentimes
when we’re younger, we go through a series of events
that often mold us into who we are today, like as adults,
as designers, as artists, as photographers. So like what was
you as a teenager? I think I was a very good kid. That’s what my mom always says. But I think I was a
little trouble in school, because I was not interested
in everything they teached me. I was actually mainly
interested in that what I wanted to be teached in. So I don’t know how the
system is here in America when you are under 16, but
you have to go back then on Wednesday afternoon
or in the evening, to you know The Breakfast Club,
that kind of thing. I was bit like that. I was trained very classic,
first Latin, Greek, mathematics, college, classic
college, small village. No [inaudible] in the village. Imagine nothing, nothing,
not even a boutique. No boutique, no movie
theater, no gallery. I mean, I hadn’t even
heard about a gallery until I was 17 or 18 when
Jan Hoet did Chambres d’Amis. You followed what
you needed to follow. So I wasn’t a bad kid at all. Just school was complicated. Then when I found out about the
possibilities of university, I was very little informed,
because the school was not really informing its
students for sure, not in a creative direction. It was a classic college. You were expected to become
a doctor or a lawyer. So I found out
about architecture, and then visiting
one city, I found out about industrial design,
product development. And when I entered
that school on a visit, and I saw kids
smoking in the school, I thought I’m going there. [laughter] Obviously. And that’s what I did. I hope that’s not
a bad motivation. Over here. All right, thank you
for your conversation. My question starts
with another person. Hopefully that’s
not too offensive. So Virgil was here last November
here at GSD offering a lecture. So upon him signing
with Louis Vuitton, I’m wondering a
broader context, what do you think of this interaction
and dynamic between luxury brand and 21st
century street wear and how is it
relevant influential to the fashion industry? Sterling. In one sentence. Seem like I’m getting
the hard questions. Well, I think it’s
pretty exciting. I think one of the
things that’s happening is that, again,
there is this kind of behavioral analysis
of the way people want to look out in public. I guess that was always
the case with high fashion. But in a strange way, it
has been re-proportioned from an older generation to
a much younger generation. And that younger
generation wants, at least the way that I look at
it and the way that I see it, they want to have
pieces that are unique. They want to have pieces
that are made extremely well out of very nice materials,
but it’s also this like cross– you know, it’s not
didactic anymore. These are things that are
being mashed up and mixed up. And it’s almost that the
curatorial process of it or the styling process of it is
giving the wearer more liberty. It’s not like wearing a
unified dress from Chloe. It’s giving the wearer,
which is a much younger demographic, the presence and
the kind of passion to just mix it up. I also think that’s
what’s happening is that I really like
that of the [inaudible] phenomena is giving people
the chance to buy and sell, and that people are
kind of looking at it, an entirely younger
demographic is looking at it from almost like a
collector’s perspective, like what do you
have, oh my gosh I’m going to trade that for that. I really like that. I don’t necessarily
know if that’s getting at Virgil,
in particular, but I think that one of the
things that it signifies, Virgil becoming Louis
Vuitton’s person is that higher
luxury brands want to have access to that
more than they did before. Back here. Hello. You mentioned that
you wish that there was more critical
literature for fashion, and that you think the younger
generation will bring it back. So I’m wondering what you
think the next generation can offer for fashion. I want to see more
people coming in, who are very much
changing the system or who don’t care so
much about system. I was also teaching for
five years, fashion, actually, at the
university in Vienna called Universitat
fur Angewandte Kunst. And I got struck actually
from the desire of most of that generation. And I’m talking now
more than 10 years ago. So I think it’s
exaggerating right now, with their obsessions
about having all the surroundings in place. The structure, the money,
the press office, everything, where I actually
always thought and told them like you have to have
an idea, if you have first your ideas, you’ll
very far in it already, and then things will find you. And I think that it’s like
he says, like the things that he finds so challenging
about previous question is, it needs time,
I think, to judge. There is so much
change right now that it’s very difficult
to see where it’s going. And in my opinion, high
fashion, very good high fashion can only be judged over
a serious time span, because lots of people
can do fashion right now. And it’s going to work
in the moment in time. But is it also going to
work over the long time? That is the big
question, I think. So I think the nature of fashion
is that fashion is always interested, and fashion
audience is always interested to be
completely surprised and to be kind of also, I
mean, even myself I have it. I like to see
somebody young coming in with something
that is completely different, but sublime. And it’s not only in fashion. I think it’s in all
applied arts and in art. And maybe it’s weird because
I’m sitting next to him, but now I suddenly
recall end 90’s, and I saw these weird
ceramics where nobody was doing ceramics
in the first place at that time, definitely not
that kind of form language. And then we had a collage, and
they were yours, of course. We hadn’t met at
that time at all. And I was like, who is that? They looked incredible, but
they also put questions. I think lots of people were
questioning them at the time, like what is this? What is this? Who is this? Now in fashion, I see a
lot of things happening. I see you why they work. But I don’t really question
them, because maybe they are not attacking. Sometimes I think
you need to get back. You need to be reactionary. I think just in general, the
way that the fashion system is, we’re starting to
see like slippage in it, in terms of not being seasonal,
doing a nontraditional runway show. I mean, these are very
surface oriented things, but they, hopefully,
over time will eventually become something that breaks
that system and challenges it and changes it. So the question is
more for Sterling. I think the 2017 advertisement
where several, yeah, this one, I think it’s really interesting
because the way people approach your work change. It’s like it’s not in a museum. It’s taken into a photograph. It’s made into a billboard
on the street, face to a larger group of people,
and without its material. And do you think the
change in the presentation and the presentation and
appreciation of your work will change how you
actually make art? I don’t really know yet. I mean I also think that
that’s a scenario which might take time to play itself out. You know, like I had
said before, very early on I had a lot of kickback
from the people who were supportive
of me as an artist and an artist in a
capital A kind of sense. But over time. I also started to see this
kind of scenario, which I just didn’t believe in it anymore. I didn’t believe
in all exhibitions had to take place in a
white room in a museum or at a gallery. And I think culturally
what I was responding to in regards to putting
that particular textile flag in a photograph, which
would then be blown up and put on a billboard in Times Square,
was really this kind of thing of putting it in front of people
who would never ever, ever have seen it if it were in
a museum or in a gallery. Hi. Perhaps last question. Oh, now I feel, like,
a lot of pressure. Well, it was mentioned how art
and fashion have comodified in the past 15, 20 years. The word cynicism was used. It was also mentioned how like
the critical body has been eroded, and so in a way, you
know, subcultures in the ’90s seem to be more sincere,
more about raw energy. And today, there’s this
sense of the possibility of subverting the system. And I don’t know if this is
just like a golden age fallacy, where we think that the
old times were better, or if today’s cultural climate
offers different opportunities to subvert the system
or move beyond cynicism, if that’s even seen as
something desirable, that we perhaps cannot see. So I was just wondering
to hear your opinions on this comparison between
the ’90s and today. Thank you. I always think the future is
better in the first place. I have to. If I don’t think that, I
cannot move all anymore. And completely out of the blue,
I’m going to say something. I was last week in Chandigarh,
which I guess almost all of you know the city that Le Corbusier
designs in the ’50s in India when Nehru had the desire
to show to the world that India would
be modern as well. And there would be no
way for a creative person to deal with a project that
large and that incredibly mind blowing if the
answer to your question would not be the future. And it’s an incredible
visionary body of work, that I can recommend
everybody to go. It’s not so easy to go to
India, but it’s really, really, really, really,
really incredible, because it’s so visionary
that it’s almost Utopian, but at the end, it’s not,
because it’s still there, and it’s still
incredibly functional. So I don’t know if it answers
your question or not, but– I think it’s a
great place to end. We all need to go to Chandigarh. [laughter] Well, let’s just thank our
guests and participants for such a lively discussion. [applause]

12 thoughts on “Rouse Visiting Artist Lecture: Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby with Jessica Morgan”

  1. I love Simons and Ruby, but this moderator seems more interested in showcasing how much she knows to the crowd rather than engaging in meaningful discussion and making the two people here who matter feel important.

  2. It doesn't have to be a 1 hrs conversation she is an unprofessional,all questions were boring.R2 boring boring boring boring.

  3. We can all thank Hedi Slimane's Celine for reinvigorating the critical writing in fashion critics , ie , Robin Gavin , Tim Blanks… and Lou Stoppard's tweets. But I think (most) times when critics have nothing nice to say , they leave the review with a question or some form of constructive note.

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