'Antonio López 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco' Dir: James Crump

Corina J Poore marvels at an enchanting documentary about the Puerto Rican born fashion illustrator whose work in top fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Elle and The New York Times who was so well known and distinctive he signed his work simply as Antonio.
Corina J Poore

Few documentaries can hold their own to the extent that they leave you wanting more.  Director and writer James Crump has achieved this with his colourful, extravagant and intensely intimate portrait of Antonio López. He manages to portray him as a fashion artist, friend, companion, and lover with all the immensely complex relationships that he developed at all levels. The collection of archival material Crump managed to find is quite staggering and it is beautifully cut together by Nick Tamburri, to build a story that draws you in so far, that you also feel you knew him personally.

It may have been a film about the fashion world, but in the end, what stays with you is the human element, how ex-lovers, male and female, appear to never cease to care for López with great warmth and affection. Not an easy task, I would have thought when the world they inhabited was fuelled with drugs and the wild extravagance of life in New York and Paris in the 1970s.  López had a powerful instinct that he knew he could trust and would pick a face or a body he could draw, whenever he saw it, no matter where, whether in Central Park or even spontaneously picking up a hooker to wear one particular dress, that he knew would fit no one else in the same way.

Lopez thus discovered new talent with amazing ease, among them Pat Cleveland, Grace Jones, Jane Forth, Donna Jordan, Tina Chow, and Jerry Hall, whom he ‘married’ in an improvised hippy ceremony.  Notably, he popularized black models more than any other illustrator. Certain people stood out as having truly cared for this special, complex and talented man, in particular, the legendary New York times photographer Bill Cunningham, and actors Patti D’Arbanville and Jessica Lange. 

Eija Vehka Ajo, Juan Ramos, Jacques de Bascher Lagerfeld and lopez 1973 paris .jpg

In Paris, López developed close-knit connections with Karl Lagerfield, who in turn reveals his deep jealousy of Yves St Laurent. But, unlike the easy- going New York crowd, you immediately got the feeling that in France completely different energies were at work and we got the sensation they got more from him than he ever would have taken from them.  In New York, he might have been seen as a counterweight to Andy Warhol, they certainly both attracted a whole world circulating around them, but whereas López worked for and with his team and his muses, Andy Warhol appears to have had them working for him.

A total workaholic, López was always drawing with a total freedom, fluidity and natural genius.  He appears to have hardly ever slept and insisted on working at all hours, expecting all his team to join in, which they all did, with gusto, creating a truly extraordinary milieu.

However, it is fair to note that his ex- lover and rock, was Juan Ramos (1942-1995). Juan Ramos was Lopez’s partner for five years and continued to work closely with him until they parted in 1970.  Ramos had the gift of pulling López’s wild work together, often taking care of the colouring and necessary preparations for publication. Together, they made a formidable team and changed Fashion drawings for evermore. It was a time when Fashion designers and their entourages were as prominent as rock stars.  Make- up was also experiencing changes and make-up artist Corey Tippin with photographer Bill Cunningham were also vital members of the inner core.

Carol La Brie 1971 first black model on cover of vogue ( italy) 2340.jpgCarlos De Brie, first black model on the cover of Voque (Italty)

Born in Puerto Rico, Antonio López was taken to live in the Bronx as a child.  He dropped out of Fashion College to work for ‘Women’s Wear Daily’, and later Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and the New York Times.   Very handsome and charismatic, he made instant connections with people and with his tough ethnic background, he was able to introduce elements of the authentic urban ‘street’ to the stiff post-war fashion world that was hungry for change. Until López came along, fashion designers depended on dull, classic and formulaic sketches, think ‘Dress patterns’. He truly revolutionized this world.

May 1968, with its period of political unrest in France had an impact on France that resounded for decades.  So, when López and his entourage arrived in Paris in the early 1970s, it was still a city awash with artistic movements, songs, imaginative graffiti, posters and slogans, a form of political & cultural psychedelia.  Pompidou’s Paris was changing, the Centre Pompidou was being built and the massive market at Les Halles was being moved to the outskirts with the old buildings being restored for community use.

This film is set in a time of wild innocence and even naïveté, when everything seemed to be possible and within reach. It is then very sad to see the dark clouds gathering over their lives due their addictions and sexual promiscuity.   López died in 1987, aged only 44, from complications resulting from Aids and his ex- lover Ramos died a few years later.    Despite their short lives, they had a lasting impact on popular culture and fashion. The film is dedicated to photographer Bill Cunnigham, who died in 2016.

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco (2017) is on at the ICA till April 19th 2018.

  • Writer/ Director                James Crump
  • Producer                          James Crump, Ronnie Sassoon.
  • DOP                                 Robert O’Haire
  • Editor                                Nick Tamburri
  • Cast :                                Paul Caranicas, Michael Chow, Tina Chow, Jerry Hall, Pat Cleveland, Grace Coddington, Bill Cunnigham, Jessica Lange, Patti D’Arbanville, Jane Forth , Grace Jones, Antonio López, Juan Ramos, Karl Lagerfield and more.


Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco - Official Trailer