Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Ahead of Fashion Week Janina Joffe of 'East of Mayfair' discusses the marriage of art and fashion...

I was first introduced to the world of fashion illustration as a child when my mother wrote a feature about the celebrated fashion artist René Gruau. One of the images I remember clearly was of a red velvet stage curtain being pulled back ever so slightly to reveal the long leg of a dancer with a bow at the top of her thigh.

René Grau - Red Curtain
© The Estate of René Gruau, courtesy East of Mayfair

What struck me about the image was not just its expert and tasteful portrayal of a risqué theatrical pose that could easily have slid into cliché, but also how the image felt both familiar and memorable at the same time. This illustrator had somehow reduced a moment and feeling to its absolute essence and made it iconic through his own signature style. Most people have seen and loved Gruau’s work before, they just don’t necessarily know who made it.
Similarly, most people don’t really know that prior to the advent of modern fashion photography, fashion designers and magazines relied solely on illustrators to display the current styles and products featured in their pages. The most famous names among them were Erté, George Lepape and Christian Bérard in the first half of the last century and the aforementioned René Gruau and Antonio Lopez in the latter half. These artists didn't simply draw fabric on mannequins, they created the flair, glamour and desire surrounding each trend with the each brushstroke and line.

Rene Grau, Smoke & Diamonds
© The Estate of René Gruau, courtesy East of Mayfair
In the run up to the global fashion week marathon, Rizzoli is releasing its first major monograph on one of the undisputed stars of this small world of artists. Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex, and Disco is in stores as of yesterday and will be accompanied by a special exhibition of the artist’s hugely diverse oeuvre at the Suzanne Geiss Company in New York, opening September 6th (Vogue Fashion Night Out). MAC cosmetics will also be creating a line of products inspired by the late artist and his muses.
Born in Puerto Rico, Antonio moved to New York City with his family when he was only 7 years old. He later dropped out of the Fashion Institute of Technology to pursue a position at Women’s Wear Daily and subsequently moved on to The New York Times. His drawings soon came to dominate the pages of magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Interview.
Antonio Lopez - Grace Jones
© The Estate of Antonio Lopez, courtesy East of Mayfair
His studio in New York was also a creative and eccentric meeting place for the eclectic group of friends surrounding him. Among them were icons like Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Bill Cunningham, Jerry Hall, Karl Lagerfeld, Norman Parkinson and Jessica Lange. More than just an artist, he was at the centre of a scene of flamboyant characters who lived for the moment and wanted to be anything but conventional.

Antonio Lopez - Fashion of the Times Bikers
© The Estate of Antonio Lopez, courtesy East of Mayfair
Antonio was not just a virtuoso at portraying the women and clothing of his time, but at conveying the entire spirit of that era. Unlike Gruau, whose style stayed very similar, and subsequently more recognisable throughout his career, the shapes, textures, colours and technique of Antonio’s work evolved remarkably from the 60s up until his untimely death of AIDS in 1987, aged 44.
Fashion illustration has been making a comeback in recent years, with major exhibitions like “Drawing Fashion” taking place at the Design Museum and Somerset House hosting “Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty”. Antonio Lopez may not be as well known in Europe as he was in New York, but the new Antonio monograph aims to change that by revealing what kind of a charismatic icon and talent he was. Much like the documentary “Bill Cunningham - New York” was a huge success in the fashion world in 2010, I hope this outing for Antonio makes him just as well known as those around him who all became household names.
Janina Joffe is the co-founder and director of East of Mayfair.
East of Mayfair sells contemporary art, design and photographs priced up to £10,000 through its unique platform The site has been conceived as an artwork in itself and created in collaboration with renowned illustrators Pierre Le-Tan and Thibaud Hérem. It takes the form of a virtual house with six rooms and is regularly curated with new artworks chosen by director Janina Joffe.
In addition, East of Mayfair offers bespoke advisory services to assist with collection building, installation and curation of artworks at home.


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