Harvard’s Graduate School of Design hosted long-time collaborators Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby as part of their Rouse Visiting Artist series. The duo opened up about everything from Simons’ recent appointment at Calvin Klein to his contentious statements about Virgil Abloh. Simons, who was notably candid throughout the night, remained silent on the latter subject, opting instead to let Sterling speak. “An entirely younger demo is looking at [clothing] from a collector’s perspective,” Ruby said of Abloh’s work at Louis Vuitton. Nice Save, Sterling.
The pair’s long collaborative history was a talking point throughout the night. Their collective work in both runway shows and the Calvin Klein flagships has highlighted the intersections of art and fashion in provocative ways. However, they both openly chided collaboration for collaboration’s sake. “You and I started to see people doing things that were a cross-pollination between art and fashion, but not doing it very well,” Ruby said. “In lots of cases it’s not natural. It’s very often a business decision,” Simons chimed in. Simons went on to say his collaborations with Ruby have always been organic, bred from a genuine “interest in each other’s practices.”
That mutual interest was also the key to the synergy in their Calvin Klein collabs. “We decided this was a way to fuck with Americana,” Sterling said of Simons appointment at Calvin Klein. “And to use that as a kind of push for American fashion, which had been at an all-time low. To try and create icons for this fashion brand during a time of global turmoil.” Ouch.
Both men also lamented the deterioration of fashion journalism, pointing to the lack of critical writing in the industry today. “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 in the past,” Ruby said.
If their conversation seemed pessimistic and cynical, it was. But Simons didn’t leave the stage before gracing the audience with a glimmer of optimism: “I always think future is better, in the first place. I have to. If I don’t think that, I cannot move on anymore.” Both Simons and Ruby are clearly passionate about the work they do. Their stern commentary on the art and fashion industries seemed to have a subtext of hope, and even when their criticism was harsh, it was always constructive.