MEL’S CORNER: Raf Simons, Debbie Harry, and Robert Mapplethorpe Converge on a Men’s Mini-Dress

For his series Mel’s Corner, 032c fashion director and stylist Mel Ottenberg shares his favorite objects from around the world, dispatching real-time wisdom to our office in Berlin. From couture to bondage to books—this is show-and-tell with frequent flier miles.

In this first edition of the series, Mel shares a piece from yesterday’s Raf Simons Summer/Spring 2017 presentation in Florence. The item, which features a legendary portrait of Debbie Harry by Robert Mapplethorpe, is a fascinating Russian nesting doll of androgyny: a woman dressed like a man, printed on mini-dress made for men. Here, Mel discusses Mapplethorpe and Debbie, Rihanna’s new music video, and why a mini-dress always beats a fan tee.

IMG_1496

IMG_1514

032c: So you’re on your way from Florence to Paris?

MEL OTTENBERG: Yes, my first flight was cancelled. I’m texting you from a little car on the tarmac with people screaming in Italian and zooming to the plane.

Oh my!

Mess.

Tell me what drew you to this particular piece. Was it all about Debbie?

This is Debbie at her hottest. Super come-at-me-fuck-you. But I always thought it was her at her most relaxed, too. Height of her career, 1978. Look at the face. Fuck styling, hair, and makeup. This is the real shit. This is really one of my favorite photographs ever. So I kinda gasped when I saw her on this skinny shaggy dude on the runway.

What I’m loving is that she’s pumping out this hyper-macho energy.  

Yes! She’s so “come at me.” In a men’s beater. So tough. It’s macho with that real “fuck you” type shit. And then it’s on a summer mini-dress for men!

It’s funny, because if this was a t-shirt it would sell out. But now in order to get Debbie, you have to buy in to dressing in drag. 

It’s true devotion. Fan tee wouldn’t be the thing.

Do you think that all the Mapplethorpe images in the show worked with the clothes?

It worked. My favorite pieces in the show were an oversized white linen shirt and a slim black leather pant. No prints, but super classic. But Debbie got me pumped as a Raf fan, as a Mapplethorpe fan, and as a Debbie superfan. I meant to talk to Raf at dinner last night about the minidress for men, but we were caught up in Mapplethorpe.

What did he say?

He told me that the foundation came to him this spring about doing something. It was the first time he hadn’t made the first move with an artist or a collaboration.

It’s interesting to see it, because it feels like the normal Raf imagery is all in this suburban moment. And Mapplethorpe is pure New York glam. 

Much of that was absolutely crushed last season. That show was off the chart. So maybe it was time to do something different. Also it’s a different moment now. It’s not really a New York moment exactly, but it’s definitely a Mapplethorpe moment.

Tell me about the new Rihanna video for Calvin Harris that came out last night, “This is What You Came For.” I think it just changed the entire summer.

It’s the song of the summer, I bet. I haven’t seen the whole video because I’m at the airport. She’s wearing Isabel Hall, who is Adam’s Selman’s intern. It’s from her graduating collection at Pratt. I went to their fashion show and was turned out by this silver glittery potato sack, of course. It reminds of a Norma Kamali disco look for baby ravers. It’s also about the Ashley Williams hair jewels and the high pony. Let’s bring it back.

Deeper

  • “I live a hope despite my knowing better”: James Baldwin in Conversation With Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)

    Born in Berlin in 1931, editor and writer Fritz J. Raddatz relied on food delivered by African American GIs after the death of his parents. To Baldwin he was an “anti-Nazi German who has the scars to prove it.” Debating his return to the USA after 25 years, Baldwin explores the political climate in America at the end of the 1970s in a conversation at home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.More
  • House as Archive: James Baldwin’s Provençal Home

    For her new book, Magdalena J. Zaborowska visited the house Baldwin occupied from 1971 to 1987 “to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity”. Here, she narrates her early journeys to Baldwin’s home and proposes a salve for its recent loss: a virtual presentation of Baldwin’s home and effects.More
  • Where are the real investments? Theaster Gates on James Baldwin

    The Chicago-based artist talks to Victoria Camblin about materializing the past, the house as museum, and preserving black legacies. Social and artistic engagement, Gates suggests, may allow the contents and spirit of Baldwin’s home, and others like it, to settle in lived experience.More
  • SECOND ACID WINTER: The Roots of Fashion’s Rave Revival

    References to late nights and chemically-induced collectivism are woven throughout recent fashion history with London's Sports Banger, Gucci, and adidas's Spezial unveiling acid-tinged collections and campaigns. It's not unusual for brands to mine the counterculture seeking inspiration, but the parallels between early 90s rave and the present are not purely aesthetic, but political too.More