The late artist Robert Mapplethorpe is best known for his black and white photographs and his frank depictions of New York’s BDSM scene, which, at the height of his career in the 1980s, scandalized a portion of the American public. Lesser understood is his jewelry practice, which he started as a child and revisited as an adult, when he made charming, idiosyncratic pieces out of string, dice, beads and shells for himself and his close friends.
This year, the Mapplethorpe Foundation, via the licensing agent Artestar, invited the jeweler Gaia Repossi to create a series of designs using these pieces as a starting point. It felt like a serendipitous pairing: Mapplethorpe’s 1981 photograph Puerto Rico, was the first piece of art Repossi acquired, and it now hangs in her studio.
Since her appointment as the creative and artistic director at her family’s high jewelry house in 2007, the designer has established the brand as an influential presence, creating unique, covetable jewelry that feels elegantly subversive. Strongly influenced by contemporary art and architecture, Repossi blends modern, innovative design with traditional techniques that honor the house’s 80 year history.
Repossi’s aim with this collaboration was to preserve Mapplethorpe’s spirit and aesthetic through elevated craftsmanship. To kickstart the three-year creative process, Repossi was given access to Mapplethorpe’s entire archive of jewelry and jewelry materials, which are currently housed at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. She also found inspiration in his photographs, collages, and artworks, and his use of found objects in his practice. “This collection is a tribute to his genius aesthetic and the beautiful items he assembled,” Repossi says.
The results are a daring collection of 15 items, 8 of which are available now at Dover Street Market New York. The work is characterized by what Repossi calls “side symmetry,” the accumulation of balance and volume, and represents central themes and shapes that appear in his work. A layered white gold and grey diamond chain recalls the fetish accessories that appeared in some of Mapplethorpe’s most famous portraits, while a casual charmed piece with pearls more closely mimics his personal baubles. Like Mapplethorpe’s work, they’re tough but stunning, a little bit shocking but nonetheless sublime.