Like most people who crossed paths with Antonio Lopez, the late, great Bronx-raised artist who electrified the fashion world in the seventies and eighties with his erotically charged illustrations, Paloma Picasso can recall a thrilling evening or two with him in Paris. Pablo’s daughter was a budding jewelry designer when she was introduced to Lopez by Andy Warhol. “It was the early seventies, and he had a great look—he really dressed up at the time, and so did I. He was doing some drawings— a lingerie story for British Vogue—and wanted someone like me with a real body to pose for it,” Picasso says. They worked out of Lopez’s apartment on Boulevard St.-Germain, a large white modern space loaned to him by his friend Karl Lagerfeld where people were always coming and going and a mix of Curtis Mayfield and T-Rex played from a tape deck. “I always thought it was amazing he could work in the middle of all that, but he liked it. It made it more exciting,” Picasso says. “He’d start drawing at the end of the afternoon, and we’d go until four or five in the morning. I had never posed like that before—not even for my parents!”
Such was Lopez’s world: an exhilarating and irreverent orb of gossip, gorgeous people, designer clothes, groovy tunes, art, kitsch, and street culture that, with the help of Juan Ramos, his behind-the-scenes art director, Lopez channeled into illustrations. This notion of “sampling”—incorporating into his drawings, say, the lines of Fernand Léger, the logo of a Coca-Cola bottle, or a hairdo he’d seen at a nightclub—not only revived the dormant art of fashion illustration but also inspired and soon defined the style of the times. “He was coming from New York so full of ideas,” recalls the Italian stylist Anna Piaggi, who enlisted the artist to illustrate the covers and stories for her short-lived, though now highly collectible, magazine Vanity. “He had all the culture, the girls, the ghetto blasters. Working with him was fantastic, like going into another world.”
“He was the zeitgeist,” says Roger Padilha, an editor, along with his brother Mauricio, of the new book Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex & Disco (Rizzoli). “At his peak, he was as famous as Marc Jacobs is now. He was the biggest person in the fashion industry.”
His drawings, which regularly appeared in The New York Times, Elle, and French and Italian Vogues, were so innovative that they forced the designers whose clothes he was drawing to actually think differently about them; many, in fact, ended up using elements of Lopez’s drawings in their collections the following season. “He transformed the clothing,” says Missoni cofounder Rosita Missoni, who commissioned him in the early eighties to draw her label’s ad campaigns, most of which now hang in her grandchildren’s apartment in Milan. “One season there’d be roses; the next it was all about hunting. My favorite was the summer 1985 collection, for which he turned the models into Olympic athletes. It was always so surprising, his creativity.” His effect on Karl Lagerfeld, who at the time designed for Chloé, is alluded to in the book The Beautiful Fall. In it, Corey Tippin, a former model, makeup artist, and member of Lopez’s inner circle, recalls that “Antonio went far beyond reality in his drawing, and it seemed to give Karl a path; it led Karl to the next design.” In 1971, Yves Saint Laurent presented a couture collection of chiffon dresses, fur chubbies, and chunky heels directly influenced by the kind of chintzy Americana that Lopez had brought to the Paris fashion scene.