Antonio Lopez was one of the most influential people in the fashion world, although almost no one outside it has heard of him. And this documentary Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco is designed to set the record straight, as it were. It’s a lively, skilfully assembled portrait of a vibrant artist whose life and work made an indelible mark not just within fashion circles but in pop culture at large.
Writer-director James Crump (who also made Black White + Gray about Robert Maplethorpe) tells Lopez’s story through a fast-paced assembly of archival film, video and stills, plus remarkably forthright interviews with a wide range of people who knew and loved Lopez. All of them were seduced by his charm, and after watching this film it’s easy to see why. You’ll wish you had met him too.
Born to Puerto Rican immigrants in 1943, Lopez grew up in New York City, where his parents encouraged him to put his obvious artistic talents to use in the fashion world. He spent years studying and refining his style, then found his voice in the 1960s as an illustrator who captured the groovy vibe of the times. His expressive drawings used colour and diversity to make the clothing and the models look even better than they did on the catwalk. Meanwhile, he and his boyfriend Juan Ramos became fixtures in the exploding New York art scene. And Lopez’s influence spread to Europe during a stint working for Karl Lagerfeld in Paris in the early 1970s.
Lopez was notorious for sleeping with both men and women, and he had an eye for outsiders who could become new icons in the industry. He discovered superstars Jessica Lange, Patti D’Arbanville, Pat Cleveland, Grace Coddington, Jane Forth and Donna Jordan, all of whom speak on-camera about his irresistible charm. He also launched the careers of Grace Jones and Jerry Hall, who appear here in archival footage. It’s fascinating to see him working with these (then very young) women, blurring friendship and professionalism. And of course, there are darker corners in his story, as he struggled with dry creative spells and bristled against power games within the fashion world.
This material is put together with a snappy sense of pace, zooming through Lopez’ life while also tracing what was happening in the world at the time. This is reflected in the complex twists and turns of his longtime relationship with Ramos, as his creative outbursts parallel the free love movement. And his death at age 44 in 1987 reflects the realities of America’s horrific Aids epidemic (Ramos died eight years later). Thankfully, Crump brings out the emotionality of these events without indulging in sentimentality, letting the interviewees openly express their feelings. This gives Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco a properly moving kick. Antonio Lopez was a revolutionary force in both the art and fashion worlds, bringing them together and pushing both of them forward. And the fact that the world lost him so young can’t help but raise the question of how he might have changed it even further had he survived.