Photography by Matin Zad
Fashion by Julian Antetomaso
Macaroni and cheese. Vodka and soda. Peanut butter and jelly. Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby. Some things are just perfect together, particularly the last pairing. The two make up one of fashion’s most illustrious collaborative relationships, a partnership that began back in 2008, when Ruby designed Simons’s Tokyo store, even before combining fashion and art was considered cool.
“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 have to say things to each other that we maybe already felt,” Simons explained during a talk at Harvard Graduate School of Design in April 2018. “We were very interested in each other’s practices, and maybe we had the desire to do things that people could not see us doing.”
Of course, their work together didn’t stop there. In fact, their relationship as collaborators grew stronger. Who could forget when the two came together for Simon’s eponymous Fall 2014 collection, which Simons referred to as “our child” and was nine years in the making. Then came Simons’s Dior days in 2012, where the designer appropriated several of Ruby’s canvases, turning them into veritable haute couture creations—a journey immortalized in Frédéric Tcheng's 2014 documentary Dior and I.
CLOTHING, SHOES, ACCESSORIES (THROUGHOUT) CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC
But the crown jewel in their body of work followed Simons’s appointment as chief creative officer of Calvin Klein in 2016. It was realized in the form of Simons’s debut collection presented for Fall 2017, for which Simons gave Ruby free creative reign, resulting in a glorious montage of America: Art Deco meets the city via the American West. It was, as they say, a new dawn and a new day.
Along with Simons’s curatorial approach came a very serious process of rebranding. Once again, he would once again call on Ruby to be his partner-in-crime when it came to redesigning the brand’s flagship store at 654 Madison Avenue in New York City and creating a floor-to-ceiling installation.
“I wanted the store to generate a very immediate physical experience that could as well be intimately connected to the collections,” Simons said in a press release. “It is also a continuation of the language I am creating with Sterling for Calvin Klein’s visible and physical identity. The use of very direct and familiar references common to the American visual experience creates a simple and emotional connection with the brand.”
Let me take you there: bright yellow walls and mock scaffolding, with dozens of Ruby ’s paintings scattered throughout. Matte black buckets, blood red strings of fringe, and geometric quilts hang from the ceiling, among poles plastered with American flags. Red, crash dummy-esque mannequins strike a pose. It’s an unabashed embrace of maximalism, marking a complete 180 from the previously minimal space.
“My design should be seen as a marker to celebrate the future of the brand,” said Ruby of the installation. “I wanted the store to glow from within, representing a new day for Calvin Klein.” And that he did.
Perhaps what makes the Simons-Ruby relationship so special is the fact that they refuse to let their egos get in the way of creating something awe-inspiring. It seems that by communicating with each other in a profoundly generous manner, the two are always able to achieve their goals, be it through spatial design, art, or fashion. What can be more delicious than that?