Ten’s To Do: See ‘Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco’, A New Film Documenting The Life Of The Legendary Illustrator
“I was crazy in love with him. I remember everyone falling in love with Antonio”, purrs Patti D’Arbanville in James Crump’s new film on the all-too-short but brilliant life of Antonio Lopez. The former Warhol actress, and muse of Cat Stevens, is not alone in succumbing to his irrepressible aura. Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, Karl Lagerfeld, Pat Cleveland, Andy Warhol – if they weren’t lovers they were in some way touched by Lopez, whose seminal style was coloured by the newly liberalised, free thinking utopias of 1960’s New York and Paris. With his Puerto Rican roots and Bronx upbringing, he transformed fashion’s dominant ideal of beauty, introducing a new energy that embraced street wear, eroticism and ethnicity in illustration, while invigorating a post-war fashion world with colour and sex appeal.
Over forty years on from his death, Crump’s film follows Lopez and his long-time lover, confidant and collaborator, Juan Lopez, from 1969 to 1973. With archive footage and stills of studio life, the voices of Lopez’s friends, colleagues and lovers tell the story of that extraordinary period of unbridled possibility and freedom. From the hub of creativity that was Lower Manhattan in the late 1960’s, to his Rive Gauche apartment in Paris, and his intimate friendship with Chloé’s young head designer Karl Lagerfeld, the film charts his involvement in the rise of read-to-wear, a change that would shift fashion’s power balance forever. We spoke to Crump about his experience of making the film…
Finn Blythe: Hi James, many congratulations on the film, we loved it. Why did you want to make it?
James Crump: Antonio Lopez’s story has been an inspiration for me since I first discovered his work via Interview magazine as a young teenager growing up in rural Indiana, a cultural wasteland of the United States. After completing graduate studies, I later befriended Antonio and Juan Ramos’ heir, Paul Caranicas who runs the Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos. That was over twenty years ago, so this subject, like most of my film projects, has been resonating for a very long time. Production began well before the recent election cycle in the US, but I think the film possesses an urgency and seems more timely than ever considering the current sociopolitical climate and the pervasive sampling of Antonio’s work by major fashion labels.
FB: Some of the most legendary names in fashion feature in the film. What impression did you get of Antonio as a person from the individuals you spoke to?
JC: For me, Antonio’s spirit continues vibrating and resonating, but it became very clear that he was such a magnetic, larger-than-life character whose spirit of love, openness and generosity touched so many people in many profound ways. I’m interested in cinematic tension, and frankly it was difficult to elicit any negative critical comments from any of the host of subjects interviewed. In many ways, this story is about love.
FB: When Lopez emerged in the 1960’s it was against a backdrop of seismic social and political change. How did that shape Lopez’s work?
JC: Antonio’s attitude and aesthetic and personal mien were infused with the ethos that emerged from the battles waged in the late 1960’s, for example, civil rights, feminism, gay rights and the student protests against the Vietnam War, all of which engendered the possibility of a more liberated society. In a kind of paranormal, clairvoyant way, Antonio somehow envisioned what the future might look like; a more open, freer, liberated society, which began to manifest in the first years of the 1970s. Of course, this was a short-lived Utopian vision that eventually collapsed, but all of this informed his practice and life which are impossible to separate.
FB: When Lopez first began as an illustrator it was considered inferior to photography. What kind of influence did he have on the art form?
JC: Antonio was incredibly innovative as an illustrator and his work has retrospectively helped free illustration from any misguided prejudice to now be considered art. But he wasn’t simply an illustrator. As an arbiter of style, he underscored the important aesthetic roles that could be played without categories to narrowly govern and define them. He was certainly working at the same level as some of the great photographers of that time, for example Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Chris von Wangenheim, even Avedon and Penn, and he helped illustration escape the anachronistic perception that it was somehow inferior to photography; an argument dating to the early nineteenth century with the birth of photography and Baudelaire etc.
FB: Lopez was Latino, bisexual and had dark skin – he worked at a time when that was less accepted in society. Given the threats to inclusivity and tolerance we see today, did you feel the film was particularly relevant now?
JC: Today the fashion world is embracing inclusivity and diversity, but Antonio and Juan Ramos were advocating for this as early as the mid-1960s. Given the elements of race, ethnicity and sexuality that Antonio injected into fashion, the film seems more urgent and timelier than ever precisely at this moment when Latino, African-American, LGBTQ and other minorities’ rights and issues are being contested and underrepresented in dominant media and culture. For me, Antonio is an ideal emblem of freedom and attainability worth re-discovering especially now with the current political climate.
FB: How did Lopez alter the dominant ideal of beauty at the time?
JC: The women that Antonio was drawn to were all unusual beauties. As Donna Jordan says in the film, they weren’t your “peaches and cream” variety. They were something else—having beauty just wasn’t enough, these women had to have an incredible personality, sexiness and a chicness that would appeal to Antonio. More importantly, the women Antonio found interesting and attractive never conformed to the kinds of beauty standards advocated by the leading editors of the glossy fashion magazines which Antonio felt were latently racist. He wanted to work with women of colour with diverse and unusual backgrounds. This made him a pioneer in undermining any prescribed notion of feminine beauty.
Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco is on at the ICA and on demand from April 6th.
All images are property of The Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, © Copyright, 2012