willy vanderperre on 20 years of collaboration with raf simons
We speak to the photographer as a retrospective of 20 years of his work with Raf Simons opens in Berlin.
The ongoing collaboration between designer Raf Simons and photographer Willy Vanderperre, spanning 20 years, is one of fashion's most consistently engaging and vital. Forged in the creative whirlpool of mid-90s Antwerp, alongside stylist Olivier Rizzo and makeup artist Peter Philips, this team of young Belgians would redefine fashion's landscape for the outsiders obsessed with teen tribes and style subcultures. It was a new aesthetic for a new world that played on the timeless beauty of youth, and the modern rituals of coming of age.
A new exhibition at Berlin's 032c Workshop, put together by Willy Vanderperre, documents two decades of his collaborations with Raf Simons. In an eight-meter-long vitrine, Willy revisits their iconic images in the forms of stickers and skate decks, and new photographs taken during recent collaboration in 032c's magazine with Olivier Rizzo, featuring the best of the last 20 years of Raf's designs. We spoke to the photographer about curating a lifetime of collaboration.
What were your first impressions of Raf when you met?
I was very quiet, and we didn't speak. He was, and still is, very intriguing.
When did you start collaborating together? What drew you two together?
The first collaborations, well that story that has been told. It was Olivier Rizzo, Peter Philips and Robbie Snelders, with Mickey Mouse make-up, shooting on Sunday afternoons in our apartment. It was an exciting time to be in Antwerp. The music and art scene were blossoming, and Raf's clothes translated perfectly what we were all feeling and wanting to express at that time.
Did you imagine your creative relationship would last so long? How has it changed and developed over the last 20 years?
It's scary to think it's been 20 years! Our relationship has grown closer and more intense, as we never want to repeat what we do. Although strangely enough repetition is a thing we are both obsessed with. But in my visual language, and in Raf's collections, we always try to explore deeper to keep the image evolving.
We often say that teamwork makes the dream work - but what do you think has been the reason that your teamwork has worked so well?
Trust, freedom, and mutual respect.
How often do you go back to your and Raf's youth for inspiration?
It's always a source of inspiration, but I think that's the same for everyone. The time in which you develop into a young adult is always an exciting time. Everything is fresh and everything is new.
Is it difficult to constantly use youth as your muse?
No, youth is always inspiring as there is an ever-growing evolution of subcultures to explore.
What was the process of curating the images for the exhibition?
The basis of the show is the retrospective story on the Raf Simons brand that Olivier Rizzo and myself shot for 032c. Joerg, the editor of 032c, and I talked about doing something extra with the images. Joerg moved his office to a new space, in the amazing, brutalist St Agnes in Kreuzberg, and as a celebration on its opening night, we decided it would also be the opening night of the show. I was on board from the start!
The show had to be held in this amazing eight-metre-long vitrine. I immediately thought of a locker, and when I think locker, I think of stickers. Stickers are a symbol to the world of what your world is. So I kept the real photographic prints from the magazine story, and then I pulled stuff from the archive and turned them into stickers, in all different in sizes and scales. Then when putting the show together, we created a depth of field, by covering the outside of the glass vitrine with stickers and prints that obscured and concealed what was right behind them.
What was Raf's input? Did he get involved?
This project, although it covers Raf's collections, was not a shared project… but as all the fashion in the images is by Raf, he's involved in spirit.
Sorting through 20 years of collaboration is no easy task. During the curation of the exhibition, which items and/or memories surprised you most?
I knew what I was looking for. Stickers are iconic images. Stickers are advertising. So I took that as the basis for it. A lot of it ended up coming out of the early work featuring the iconic Robbie Snelders, the early backstage images, the campaigns I've shot for his brand, and the amazing Luca Lemaire, who is now a long-time face of Raf Simons.
Was there a competitive element in the soundtracks?
The soundtrack plays within the locker, as you move from left to right, it changes. The left side is electronic, the right is sludge; somewhere in the middle the sound collides and becomes abstract noise. The electronic music is Mentasm by Second Phase (one of my favorite dance tracks!) and the doom sludge rock is from Amenra. They both inspire me a lot.
What was the most enjoyable part of the retrospective?
Well, this will read as a huge thank you! Meeting Joerg and Maria Koch. The dinner with so many amazing people. The party at the opening. The two days of intense work putting the show together. Without the help of my (more than) right hand Romain Dubus, it would not have been possible. And the rest of my team, Henri Coutant and Floriane Desperier... the whole crew at 032c. Then seeing Olivier there. And of course the research and the stickers. I am a huge fan of stickers.
Text Felix Petty