Merging sensitivity and sex appeal, the French designer pays homage to the photographer’s transgressive legacy

This Sunday, Ludovic de Saint Sernin made his much-anticipated New York Fashion Week debut with a Robert Mapplethorpe-inspired runway. “I wanted to create a collection that celebrates Robert’s legacy—not only as an artist but also as the man that he was,” the designer tells Document. “I wanted to capture his world and the people that he photographed, that community he created around him.”

De Saint Sernin collaborated directly with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, translating the artist’s infamous black-and-white photos into delicately crafted handmade garments. The resulting collection celebrates Mapplethorpe’s subversive influence while honoring the sensitivity that suffused his work. “Robert’s legacy is so rich and his work shows so many layers of himself,” says de Saint Sernin of his inspiration for the looks, which fluidly mix femininity and masculinity to create a sex appeal unbound by gender. There were calla lilies and BDSM-inspired masks; leather trench coats and sharp-looking metal accessories; hot pants with rear cleavage and gowns in shades of maroon and piercing red.

The show, which opens with a model dressed as an “innocent flower boy” and closes with that same model in a black leather dress and leather horns, captured the dualities of sex and fragility—providing a fitting tribute to the photographer who brought S&M into the fine-art canon.