From El Barrio and Back Again: Antonio López on Fifth Avenue
Artwork: Antonio Lopez, Illustration for Karl Lagerfield in Vanity Fair, Musical Dress, 1980s, Gouache on paper, 22” x 30”.
Antonio López is a Nuyorican legend. Born in Utado, Puerto Rico in 1943, he was just two years old when he began to sketch dresses from fabric his mother had given him. At the age of seven, his family moved to New York City, Spanish Harlem to be exact. Back in the days, the neighborhood was riddled with gangs as brilliantly depicted in Piri Thomas’s memoir, Down These Mean Streets. To keep her son off the streets, López’s mother, a seamstress, asked him to draw flowers for her embroideries. He also helped his father, a mannequin maker, to apply make-up an stitch wigs on to figures.
Such home training portended beautifully, as López earned a scholarship to the prestigious Traphagen School of Fashion, which provided Saturday programming for children. From there he went on to attend the High School of Art and Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology. While at F.IT., he began an internship at Women’s Wear Daily, which lead to a position on staff. He left school, and that’s when everything began.
López began to freelance for fashion magazines in the early 1960s, before moving to Paris in 1969, where he partnered He returned to New York seven years later in the thick of things, as disco, funk, and nightlife were all the rage. His images became icons of the time, elevating the look and style of Nuyorican chic to the high fashion. In 1982, his seminal book, Antonio’s Girls, was published, featuring the greatest faces of the time, including Pat Cleveland, Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, and Jessica Lange. Oft copied, never duplicated, López reigned supreme until his death from complications of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 44.
Like so many of that era, López was taken far too soon. His work stood as a testament to the power of art and fashion to bring people together to celebrate beauty and find joy in the finer things in life. His style was unlike any before—or since. He understood the path from the streets to the runways were to be walked in the highest of heels to a rhythm that embraced Afrofuturism and Latin grooves. It was said that the personal is political, and López made us aware of this. His love of life in its infinite variety bears a witness to this.
In celebration of his life’s work, El Museo del Barrio, New York, presents Antonio López: Future Funk Fashion now on view through November 26, 2016. The exhibition honors the artist’s commitment to the body and the street, while exploring the powerful influence of Afrofuturism holds, casting its spell over everything like an Orisha of old. Future Funk Fashion features over 300 works including drawings, Instamatic photographs, archival photographs, clothing and shoe designs. The exhibition also draws attention to López’s lifelong business partner, Juan Ramos, and how together they changed the game for models of color in the world of high fashion.
The exhibition is curated by Rocío Aranda-Alvarado and Amelia Malagamba-Ansótegui, who observes, “The work of Antonio is a manifesto drawn on paper that argues for beauty as a constant act of transgression and negotiation. He understood the dominant discourses of culture in the world of fashion at that time, but he was able to re-draw the lines of this world by creating a narrative of beauty informed by his Caribbean sensibilities, his brown body and his desire for change.”
Let the choir say Amen.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.