For someone who has been mythologized ad nauseam, who has been a perennial reference in fashion since he first dazzled the creative communities of New York and Paris in the golden age of prêt-à-porter, Antonio Lopez still has a few surprises in store. In Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco, a revealing new documentary about the virtuoso fashion illustrator directed by James Crump, the disclosures come thick and fast.
For one, Crump’s time capsule of a movie reveals that Lopez, who died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 44, had a much more intimate relationship with his teenage discovery, Jerry Hall, than was previously assumed. (They lived together for two years—much to the consternation of Juan Ramos, Lopez’s longtime partner—before Hall eventually took up with Bryan Ferry.) Indeed, in interview after interview with friends and collaborators, a trail of broken hearts emerges.
“When I say I had a crush on him, I was absolutely crazy about him,” says the actress Jessica Lange, who was broke and studying mime when she met Lopez and started modeling for him in Paris. Adds Patti D’Arbanville, a Manhattan scenester–turned–Warhol actress–turned–Lopez model who is not shy about discussing how creative he was in the bedroom: “I was crazy in love with him. I remember everyone falling in love with Antonio.”
The adoration shows no signs of abating. This past fall, Lopez was the subject of “Antonio Lopez: Future Funk Fashion,” an exhibition at El Museo del Barrio, in New York; this season, he has cast his spell all over the runways. At Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, and Haider Ackermann, some of the looks had more than a passing resemblance to Lopez’s sexed-up disco dollies. Kenzo’s nightclub-themed collection, for which the models wore industrial-strength rouge, was created in collaboration with Lopez’s estate.
“Antonio’s drawings and photographs are as relevant today as ever,” says Humberto Leon, who designs Kenzo with Carol Lim. Leon says they had thought of saluting Lopez (a good friend and frequent collaborator of Kenzo Takada, the brand’s founder) when they took over Kenzo in 2011. “It was a little premature to tell that nostalgic side of the story before we established new codes,” Leon says. “But five years later it feels like the perfect moment to showcase the relationships from that time and how influential they were.”
A fashion prognosticator whose father was an amateur psychic, Lopez was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx. He was an early booster of ethnic diversity and individual beauty—which is one of the reasons he decamped to progressive Paris. He also intuited that models would become celebrities in their own right and favored live sittings with unconventional beauties like Donna Jordan and Jane Forth. “We totally related to the old studio system in Hollywood, a land of make-believe,” recalls Corey Grant Tippin, who was responsible for the outrageous hair and extravagant makeup that Lopez preferred—much of it purchased from theatrical suppliers and slapped on by hand. “The studios constructed personalities and created fake identities.”
Accompanied by his ragtag posse from New York—a bunch of game-for-anything night crawlers with a flair for the dramatic—Lopez charmed le tout Paris, including Karl Lagerfeld, who was 37 and designing for Chloé when they met. Lagerfeld was smitten with Lopez and Ramos, and he even lent them an apartment that he wasn’t using, on Boulevard Saint-Germain. “Antonio really was an arbiter of style who had his finger on the pulse of many things, not just fashion,” Crump says. “I don’t think we have anyone like that today, who has such an instinctive, broad read on popular culture.”
On the other hand, Crump does not sugarcoat Lopez’s misadventures. In one scene, a friend recalls how Ramos had to go to the hospital after a nasty dust-up with Lopez at a restaurant. Toward the end of the film, the late New York Times photographer and Lopez confidant Bill Cunningham recalls how after Lopez and Ramos returned to New York and Lopez was diagnosed with AIDS, they reached out to Lagerfeld for some illustration work, which never materialized.
It was a sad end to a friendship and, eventually, to one of the most creative careers in fashion. Still, it makes sense that at a time when all of us on Planet Fashion are pining for unbridled creativity and positivity—not to mention a much-needed night out on the town—that glorious era before everything came crashing down, when almost anything seemed possible, should seem especially alluring. We are not done dancing with Lopez quite yet.
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