A film remembers the artist who brought fashion illustration back into fashion
Speaking candidly to the camera, actress Jessica Lange remembers when she worked as a model for fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez in the 1970s. She can’t hide her smile: âEveryone at this epoch found its way into the world of Antonio. There was something magical about it. He had this way of bringing joy into people’s lives.
Lange is just one of a long list of Lopez collaborators who appear in James Crump’s alluring new documentary, Antonio Lopez 1970: Sexual Fashion & Disco, screening this Friday as part of Doc NYC. And their admiration and dedication to the artist is essential to understanding the breadth of his work.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1943, Lopez moved to New York City as a child and grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Bronx. At the age of 12, he obtained a scholarship for the the Saturday children’s program at the Traphagen School of Fashion, and attended the High School of Art and Design on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Later, he was accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology, but never graduated. At school, Lopez started working for John’s Fairchild Daily women’s clothing, and in just a few months, his illustrations made the cover of the prestigious publication. He left school to work full time for Fairchild, when his work was noticed by Carrie Donovan, the legendary fashion editor for the New York Times. She offered him freelance work, and this exhibition ultimately turned him into a regular contributor to some of the most influential fashion publications of the time, such as Vogue, She, and Harper’s Bazaar.
Along with his collaborator and longtime boyfriend-turned-friend Juan Ramos, Lopez is credited with saving the fashion illustration from extinction. From the late 1930s, photography began to eclipse illustration, as the work of Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn became more prominent in fashion magazines. “The first photographic cover of [American] Vogue was a turning point in the history of fashion illustration and a turning point in its decline â, fHistorian Laird Borrelli-Persson writes in her book Fashion illustration now. When Lopez took his style to the glossy pages of magazines and portrayed his models dancing and moving across the page, breaking with the old tradition of stagnant poses, he injected life and whimsy into the work. Speaking in the movie, VogueGrace Coddington, Chief Creative Officer of, explains: âUntil it happened, a fashion design was like a very rigid sewing pattern. Antonio brought this thing where he put them in a fantasy.
Directed, written and co-produced by Crump, who is also an art historian and collector, the film is a shameless love letter to Lopez’s work and the glorious days of the art and fashion worlds of downtown New York in the 1970s (a theme the director once visited in its debut in 2007 characteristic Black, white + gray: a portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe).
Crump doesn’t try to hide what he thinks about his subjects. He became fascinated with Lopez and Ramos when he was a young teenager living in rural Indiana and read about their “Magical Life and Surroundings” on Maintenance magazine. We feel the urgency felt by the director to tell the story of an artist unjustly forgotten. The film is personal without being too sentimental.
Through interviews with Lopez’s entourage and incredible archive footage, Crump documents the duo’s creative process and intense appetite for the nightlife: from wild parties at Max’s Kansas City in Manhattan to crazier nights at the Club. 7 in Paris; from a trip to Saint-Tropez with Karl Lagerfeld to a shoot in Jamaica with Norman Parkinson and Jerry Hall; from the set of an Andy Warhol film shot in the Rive Gauche apartment in Lagerfeld to the home of legendary designer Charles James at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. (Jessica Lange memorably describes entering “Charles’s weird little studio with this obese beagle called Sputnik who lived in the bathroom.”)
His entourage, by the way, is an incredibly impressive collection of big names in the industry on both sides of the Atlantic: magazine publishers (Vogueby Joan Juliet Buck, Maintenanceby Bob Colacello), legendary models (Jane Forth, Donna Jordan, Pat Cleveland), living icons (Karl Lagerfeld, Jerry Hall, Grace Jones) and the touching Bill Cunningham – the end New York Times photographer and one of Lopez’s closest friends – who gave his last interview before passing away in 2016. (The film is precisely dedicated to Cunningham.)
Enhanced by a soundtrack close to the perfection of the 70s dance floors (Donna Summer, Chic, Marvin Gaye) and subtle visual effects by Andre Purwo that alternate between Lopez’s designs and breathtaking images from Decadent lifestyle, Crump’s film delivers its 1970s glory message – sex, fashion and disco – without ever feeling free.
Lopez was also a champion of diversity and inclusion, and the film highlights how unique this was to the high fashion world at the time. While the American public was just beginning to discover the new phenomenon of the top model and panicked over the sweet perfection of the all-American girl (formalized by a Time magazine which featured Cheryl Tiegs on her cover), Lopez challenged stereotypical model poses and celebrated non-traditional beauty with her models: the toothy smile of Donna Jordan, the shaved eyebrows of Jane Forth, the extreme haircuts of Grace Jones. . Over time, he developed a following among a group of models, who became known as âFilles d’Antonioâ (a somewhat patronizing term popularized in an essay by Jean-Paul Goude that appeared in an issue of 1973 from Squire).
“Race, ethnicity, sexuality have become the main foundations of their art, as opposed to fashion, which has always been how everyone perceives the work of Juan and Antonio”, explains artist Paul Caranicas in the movie. Caranicas was Ramos’ partner from 1971 until his death in 1995, and he is the executor of the estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos.
When Lopez died of complications from AIDS in 1987, a New York Times the obituary describes him as a “great fashion illustrator [whose] the ever-flamboyant style has influenced the work of many other fashion illustrators since the 1960s. But Lopez was more than that. His multicultural and glamorous vision makes him a unique artist in the world of haute couture. Her life was too short and Crump wants the world to remember that. As he told me: “[Lopezâs] oldest contemporary [Andy Warhol] successfully transitioned from illustrator to studio artist. I think Antonio could have done it [at that] if he had lived longer.
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