Certain album covers make such an impact that they transcend their original context, becoming pop cultural phenomena in their own right. Guests stepping into last night’s Raf Simons Spring/Summer 2018 show, deep in New York City’s Chinatown, were greeted by one of these designs—the layered lines of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures cover, printed on paper lanterns hung from the underside of the Manhattan Bridge. This, along with a selection of other graphics from the Factory Records catalogue by designer and label co-founder Peter Saville, was a central motif of Simons’ new collection, and a thread connecting his present to his past.
The Unknown Pleasures cover is a rare image in that can accurately be described as iconic. It is so widely reused and parodied for cheap ephemera like t-shirts, tote bags, and phone cases that it has become familiar even to those who couldn’t identify a Joy Division song. But Simons’ use of the artwork is not so much a comment on the commodification of visual culture and art objects as it is the latest expression of his longstanding relationship with Saville’s work. In 2003, Simons used a selection of Saville’s Factory work in a collection entitled “Closer,” after the Joy Division album of the same name. Simons added Saville’s imagery to his own oversized silhouettes, and items from this collection are now among the most coveted in his catalogue.