Long before style blogs and Flipboard, illustration was the world’s window to the runway -- the only way for the masses to see what designers were up to. Of course, by the 1930s, photography had become king. But one visual virtuoso, Antonio Lopez, managed to reverse that trend in the ’60s, elevating fashion illustration to an art form and, along the way, becoming a major influence on the photography, advertising, and couture worlds.
Lopez’s sketches were more than just dashed-off gouaches on white; they burst with vivid detail, fluid lines, bold color, and erotic energy. He depicted real scenes, many of which are included in Roger and Mauricio Padilha’s new book, Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex & Disco (Rizzoli, $65), a career-spanning volume that features not only Lopez’s drawings, but also paintings, letters, and never-before-seen photography.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1943 and raised in Spanish Harlem by his father, a mannequin sculptor, Lopez proved extremely gifted from an early age. By the time he was 22, he was making $1,000 per illustration. After hooking up with his longtime partner and collaborator, Juan Ramos, he set up a studio and began working on covers for major publications, as well as ads for brands like Valentino, Missoni, and Versace. Every major player looked to Lopez for inspiration, from then-fledgling Chloé designer Karl Lagerfeld to Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, who would send along his drawings to photo shoots, instructing the crew to simply recreate them.
Lopez eventually fell in with the Warhol and Halston crowds, and as he weaved in and out of the fashion scene in Paris and onto the floor of Studio 54, he demonstrated a keen eye for young talent. His harem of muses, the Antonio Girls, included the striking Jane Forth, Texas bombshell Jerry Hall, Jessica Lange (a dancer at the time), Pat Cleveland, and Grace Jones.
Jane Forth and Lopez in his Carnegie Hall studio, 1968
For three decades, Lopez was at the top of his game, perfectly embodying the youthful demimonde of each era, from the bold op-art graphics of the 1960s to the disco-driven decadence of the ’70s and the over-the-top pomp of the ’80s. Had he not passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1987, there’s no telling where he would have taken his vision.
Grace Jones in “Blue Water Series,” 1975, photographed by Lopez
As Jerry Hall says in the book, “I didn’t really know what I looked like till Antonio. He drew me, not as I was, but as I should be.” Armed simply with his pen and a wild imagination, he did the same for the fashion world as a whole.
To accompany Antonio Lopez, the Suzanne Geiss Company in New York City will present the exhibit Antonio’s World from September 6–October 20.