Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco, a film by director James Crump, is an intimate and vivid look at the most influential fashion illustrator of the 1970s, Antonio Lopez. Charting the development of his talent and extraordinary group of friends and lovers, the documentary is a far more emotive and dazzling look at the fashion world than its more controlled – and sometimes dull – predecessors. Through talking head interviews with the likes of actress Jessica Lange, former model Pat Cleveland and fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, plus archival footage from the decade, you’ll find yourself immersed in Lopez’s electrifying world, and see how he shook up and brought colour and vibrancy to the previously staid fashion industry.
Before Lopez made his mark, fashion illustration was “just like a very stiff couture model”, Grace Coddington, creative director at large of American Vogue, remarks. Where drawings once consisted of black and white line sketches of models who were more mannequins than personalities, Lopez introduced a burst of colour, chaos and movement to the art, his frenetic illustrations bringing the clothes and women he drew to life. “He was so far ahead of his time,” model Donna Jordan says in the film, “he was in another century.”
The early ‘70s was a wild and exciting time, full of new energy, movement and ideas. Alongside societal changes – this was pre-AIDS and post-gay liberation – big shifts were taking place in the fashion industry. “The ‘70s saw the emergence of the fashion designer as a true social force,” former editor-in-chief of Interview magazine, Bob Colacello says. The likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Halston changed the role of the designer from dressmaker to society figure, while models went from wearing white lab-like coats between shows to dancing down the catwalks in the new prêt-à-porter collections. Personalities ruled, and Lopez knew how to capture them.
Together with his creative and sometime-romantic partner Juan Ramos, Lopez quit the Fashion Institute of Technology when offered work by Women’s Wear Daily. The pair went on to work for The New York Times and US Vogue, wooing editors and stylists like Diana Vreeland, Anna Piaggi and Polly Allen Mellen along the way. Designer Charles James invited Lopez into his studio to draw his collection, while Bill Cunningham gave him his six-room Carnegie Hall apartment to work from.
What was it about Lopez that attracted such influential figures? “You had to watch him as he was drawing,” Cunningham explains. “He was breathing like he was pulling the magic right out of the atmosphere.” Besides his hypnotising drawing method, which consisted of gasping, holding his breath, huffing and puffing, he was a magnet, drawing in lovers and collaborators alike with his voracious appetite for life. Lopez drew comparisons with Andy Warhol – perhaps the best-known artist and social butterfly of the ‘70s – who hung out alongside him at infamous nightclub-cum-restaurant Max’s Kansas City. One commentator in the documentary says: “You either hung out in Andy’s corner, with the hangers-on, or Antonio’s corner, with the cool kids. Andy was quiet and let things happen around him; Antonio created the things that happened.”
Part of the magic of Lopez were the women he surrounded himself with: 'Antonio’s Girls'. A feature by Jean-Paul Goude (the art director and long-time Grace Jones collaborator) in Esquire magazine in 1973 celebrated the women Lopez had discovered and drawn, often playing a heavy hand in their future careers: Cathee Dahmen, Pat Cleveland, Eija Vehka Ajo, Patti D’Arbanville, Amina Warsuma, Carole La Brie (the first black model to grace the cover of Vogue Italia), Alva Chinn, Tina Chow, Jessica Lange – the list goes on. All unique in looks and character, Lopez sought something else from his models: “It’s the way they carry themselves, how they feel about themselves, you can see it clearly in the way they stand, the way they speak, the way they walk, the way they take care of themselves. I find that very exciting.”
In fact, it was Lopez and Juan’s diverse idea of beauty that led them to Paris. They felt the latent racism of New York’s fashion industry, which favoured the Cheryl Teigs "girl-next-door" aesthetic and withheld opportunities from black models, was inhibiting their work, and upped sticks to France, where they immediately fell in with Karl Lagerfeld, who was heading up Chloé at the time. The industry was seeing a decline in the serious and conventional world of salons and haute couture, and Lagerfeld was open to change, which he found in Lopez and Juan. Dressing the duo and supplying them with their materials, his prints at Chloé, according to Cunningham, were even inspired by their drawings.
One of the most thrilling parts of the documentary looks at the rivalry between Lagerfeld and the other designer darling of the time, Yves Saint Laurent. “There was the Lagerfeld clique and the Yves clique, and you had to be careful, as they didn’t like you crossing over,” Colacello says. “Karl wanted all of these young, talented people around him, whereas Yves was like Andy [Warhol] in a way, kinda helpless and needed women like Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise around him to tell him what women wanted to wear. Karl didn’t need that.” Lopez, however, moved freely between the two camps, happy as long as there was a good time to be had.
To a soundtrack of Chic, Sly & The Family Stone, Donna Summer and The Temptations, the film shows how Lopez lived life at high speed, working ferociously by day and partying until the early hours at whichever hotspot was playing disco at the time – Café de Flore and Club 7 in Paris, where Lopez discovered Jerry Hall at just 17. They soon became lovers – a relationship that lasted several years – and it appears Lopez was fundamental in creating the Hall we’re so familiar with today, all sex, glamour and poise.
The film closes with a moving account from Cunningham, who was a lifelong friend of Lopez’s and who passed away shortly after production finished (the film’s credits read “For Bill”). Lopez died in 1987 of complications from AIDS, but it’s clear that everyone whose life he moved through was profoundly affected by his creativity and lust for life. Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco is a time capsule of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in New York and Paris, and pinpoints the birth of key fashion moments, from the ‘It girl’ to ready-to-wear collections. A joyous, seductive and inspiring film, we defy you not to fall for Antonio Lopez and his technicolour world.
Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco is showing at cinemas now.