Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco

Review by Caroline Golum

Directed by

James Crump

Starring

Joan Juliet Buck Michael Chow Paul Caranicas

Anticipation.

Another week, another documentary delve into the world of high fashion.

Enjoyment.

Antonio Lopez may be a lesser-known subject, but he’s a fascinating one.

In Retrospect.

Formally conventional though it is, the film offers a lilting reminder of a lost era.

A colourful portrait of the 1970s fashion circuit as seen through the prism of an iconic illustrator.

If the name Antonio Lopez doesn’t ring a bell, surely the clean lines and vibrant gestures of his work will. A seminal fashion illustrator who helped launch the careers of proto-supermodels Grace Jones and Jerry Hall, Lopez made his name during that brief, heady twilight between the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

His ascension from New York’s burgeoning hippie culture to the runways of Paris and Milan is the focus a new portrait-documentary by director James Crump (Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe). Lopez’s brief, glittering life is the perfect synecdoche of gay liberation through fashion experimentation, and Crump treats his subject like an ad hoc Virgil, leading us through the city’s decadent heyday.

Born in Puerto Rico, Lopez emigrated to the United States as a young boy, joining the scores of Borinquenos who comprised a sizeable chunk of New York City’s Spanish-speaking community. After graduating from the prestigious High School of Art and Design, Lopez began his illustration career in earnest at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the 1960s. Using resources like archive footage, photographs and animated iterations of Lopez’ iconic drawings, the film paints a loving portrait of a soul sorely missed, and an exciting time long gone by. Although the format of the film itself is a little conventional (“Ken Burns effect,” bumptious music cues, etc), the fascinating life of its subject (and his artsy milieu) compensates for any technical shortcomings.

Now synonymous with gender fluidity and risk-taking, the fashion industry was still relatively tame when Lopez and co. hit the scene. Coming off a half century of dressing debutantes and society matrons, by the late 1960s designers like Yves Saint-Laurent, Pierre Cardin, and Bill Blass had begun the long, slow, process of democratising couture. The “ready to wear” revolution gave anyone – male, female, or otherwise – access to daring new looks from across the pond. Stateside, inroads made by Black liberation movements after World War Two set a foundation for subsequent struggles, inspiring women’s groups and queer activists to bring sexuality to the forefront of the national conversation. While the rest of America was still wrapping its head around individual sexual freedom, bohemian New Yorkers were readily savouring the fruits of liberation.

New York City today would be unrecognisable to the Antonio Lopezes of the word, but by looking backward, Crump brings the best of this wondrous era screaming into the present. We’ve come a long way from the days of quaaludes and abundant loft space, but sexual liberation still continues apace. As Lopez’ story proves, where and when you’re born is only half the battle. From the cradle to the tomb, Lopez was always in the right place at the right time. But good timing will only get you so far – it’s talent and bravery, which he possessed in abundance, that keeps you there.

Published 7 Apr 2018

Tags: Antonio Lopez James Crump

Anticipation.

Another week, another documentary delve into the world of high fashion.

Enjoyment.

Antonio Lopez may be a lesser-known subject, but he’s a fascinating one.

In Retrospect.

Formally conventional though it is, the film offers a lilting reminder of a lost era.

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