Gaia Repossi and Campbell Addy Discuss the Meanings of Robert Mapplethorpe

As Repossi’s collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation continues, the renowned jeweller and celebrated photographer discuss the artist’s complex legacy 

BY Gaia Repossi, Campbell Addy AND Charlie Porter in Collaborations | 24 OCT 22

As part of an official collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Repossi’s Creative and Artistic Director Gaia Repossi, researched the late artist’s archives, paying tribute to the artist through a collection of fine jewellery for the Paris based house. 

Repossi drew on holdings at the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and the Getty Research Institute, focusing on the artist’s crucial though lesser-known practice in sculpture, collage, and jewellery early in his career.

Act II of this collaboration was released earlier in 2022, with all 11 pieces exhibited as alongside archival materials at Selfridges through Frieze Week in London until November 6th. To celebrate the collaboration, Gaia Repossi was joined by photographer and Frieze 91 Member Campbell Addy for an intimate conversation with Charlie Porter, writer, curator and author of What Artists Wear (2021).


Robert Mapplethorpe wearing jewelry by Mapplethorpe, 1971. Photo Credit: Valerie Santagto
Robert Mapplethorpe wearing jewelry by Mapplethorpe, 1971. Photo: Valerie Santagto


"Of course, I had seen the images that everyone has seen of him and Patti Smith when they're very young and this pre-punk vibe where they're wearing this jewellery. That's all I knew. Then I went deeper into the research, and we're actually in a phase of his very early work when he's still an artist doing collages, paintings. These jewels he's making with Patti at the time are collages. I think we're in between 1965 to '68, maybe at the latest, '72, then he stopped because his photographic career started. Among the research of the objects I was given access to, it relates to a period of his Polaroids…  He's playing with portraits of Patti, of his friends. He's exploring his sexuality as well at this time and discovering himself. The jewellery carries already all the themes, and it's actually the beginning of the photography."   — Gaia Repossi

"I was reading up about when Patti first met Mapplethorpe, and they're working at a bookstore. She was uptown, and he was downtown, and he came in with a voucher… In her mind, she saw this bohemian jewellery piece he was wearing, and she was like: ‘That's what I love. Please don't take it. Please don't take it’ Of course, he's there for an hour, and they'd met only once - didn't even know each other's names yet, and he had then chosen that piece. All she could say was, ‘Make sure you don't give it to another woman, but me.’ That's how their relationship blossomed."  — Campbell Addy


Gaia Repossi at the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York. Photo: Jeremy Everett
Gaia Repossi at the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York. Photo: Jeremy Everett

"I think it was Patti Smith who gave them the passion for collecting these objects, making them, and wearing them as a style. I think they were setting a trend within themselves of being punks before the era. There was very strong tribal impact in the necklaces, because that's where also punk comes from. He was ahead of his time with this aesthetic. Once Mapplethorpe started being a little bit famous with his Polaroids and the jewellery, he was selling it to the cool people of the time, including wealthy clients that were also collecting his collages. He was featured in Harper's Bazaar and different fashion publications with themselves wearing them, and he wanted them to be at the right place. It has already this ambition where he was slowly networking himself. When I was speaking with the head of the foundation, Michael Stout, who was his former lawyer and a great, great person, he explained to me Mapplethorpe’s passion for luxury, which we see later on in the later photography. When I asked, ‘What would you think of the jewelry I made?’, Stout said Mapplethorpe he would've loved it because it's extremely refined and elegant with refined materials. He's someone that with the refinement of his own aesthetic, even though they're beads and very simple objects, they carry this elegance." — Gaia Repossi

"I think a lot of queer people use their bodies first as almost transformative use of language instead of the artwork, whether it's our hair, whether it's our clothes. When I first came out, I was blond, I wore platforms, piercings. It's not rebellious, but it's almost something wound up, that's been caged. In the 1960s, I can't imagine how much more constricting would've been. As I thought and looked more into this, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe jewellery was their outlet at the time,’ because you can put it on and take it off, and yet you still can blend in. When people look closely at you, there's those little nuggets of your personality. As you said, then seeps into this photographic work through the Polaroids. He didn't even say he was a photographer when he took the Polaroid studies, because he didn't want to use secondary imagery. He wanted to use his own imagery. I think it's a very queer story, but in jewellery." — Campbell Addy


Credit: Luke Fullalove
Campbell Addy, Gaia Repossi and Charlie Porter at No.9 Cork Street, October 2022. Photo: Luke Fullalove

"I was first given simple access to the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation itself in New York, which is this incredible room and a neat packing area. They had displayed a few necklaces, a few pieces of jewellery for my first research encounter. I think they figured with my background that I would be interested in it deeper, so they said, ‘Would you like to have access to the Getty Research Institute, where the object department carries more than a thousand objects?’ I said, ‘Of course. I went with a badge and gloves for five days in a row and documented more than a thousand objects from the famous fisherman's box where Mapplethorpe had all the objects, and a lot of things were ready to be assembled. I found maybe 200 possibilities with necklaces, earrings. I tried to explore finishing what he was doing among the collages and the elements that were ready: imagining this would be a bracelet, this would be a necklace. That was an incredible experience.  Working with someone who's not among this world is a challenge. You have to make it a tribute first. I took some of the famous pieces like the one I'm wearing right now, and made them into something really fine, as a tribute collection." — Gaia Repossi


© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Licensed by Artestar, New York._12
Repossi/Robert Mapplethorpe tribute collection. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Licensed by Artestar, New York

"Within my own work, jewellery is almost like a finishing touch. Sometimes there's too much involved. Is it going to be the focal piece of the image? Am I going to totally make it a jewellery piece, or is it something that's going to just highlight or amplify the emotion that I'm thinking? I did a piece on all the characters that I had met over my 10 years moving to London, and there was this woman I remember meeting on the Victoria line and she would wear a necklace around her ears. I remember just like vividly staring at her thinking, ‘Hey, I don't know how this is going to work,’ or how she could move. But it was her thing. Then when it came to me doing my project, I dissected down that one woman that would wrap the earrings and the necklace around her ears and then use it as a band. Being Ghananian as well, I’m from the country of gold: it’s something that's always been in my culture. I find it slightly harder now as I've gotten older. I think about just where jewellery comes from, where the materials come from. I like to contextualize. If I use a piece, I hope to know where it's from, where it's made, where it's sourced. I think history should be shared, especially my history. It's interesting. Jewellery can be a lot of everything, if that makes sense".— Campbell Addy

Discover Act II of Repossi / Mapplethorpe at Selfridges, London, until November 6th and online at 

Main image: Robert Mapplethorpe wearing jewelry by Mapplethorpe, 1971. Photo: Valerie Santagto

Gaia Repossi is Creative and Artistic Director of Repossi. She lives in Paris, France.

Campbell Addy is a photographer and filmmaker. He lives in London, UK.

Charlie Porter is a journalist, writer and critic based in London, UK.