Antonio Lopez

Published August 24, 2012

In the late ’60s, a nightlife-loving New York City artist was not just making era-defining images but creating superstars. He cultivated an entourage of young and beautiful people and catapulted them and himself to fame. You’d be forgiven for identifying the artist as Andy Warhol, but he wasn’t the only  Svengali hanging out at Max’s Kansas City with a glamorous coterie. In fact, when Andy was at Max’s, he surely saw the charismatic fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez surrounded by a gaggle of models and muses, notably Jane Forth, Pat Cleveland, Donna Jordan, and later, Jerry Hall. All would eventually orbit Warhol’s universe—he cast Jordan and Forth in his film L’Amour (1973), co-starring Karl Lagerfeld. But it was Lopez who discovered these beauties and immortalized them in his graphic, lifestyle-driven advertisements and editorials for publications like Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The New York Times, and of course, Interview. Helping Lopez create the concepts for his vignettes was art director Juan Ramos, his longtime partner in work and life. The two had a studio at the residences in Carnegie Hall, also home to their friend, the photographer Bill Cunningham. Lopez, who died of complications from aids in 1987, at age 44, exerted a magnetic force over those close to him. “Antonio was magical,” says model Donna Jordan. “When I first met him in 1967, he was coming down the steps to Bethesda Fountain, in Central Park, dressed in a red suit. He was quite a vision.”

Lopez grew up in Harlem and, encouraged by his dressmaker-mother, attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. When he got his first job in 1962 at WWD, fashion illustrations were little more than artful catalog-like representations of garments. Lopez made the medium sexy. “Everyone imitated his style because it was so distinct and so of the moment,” says Corey Tippin, who as a teenager joined the Lopez band as a makeup artist and model. “His work was such a fashion barometer.”

Just how ahead of his time Lopez was is evident in a new book, Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco (Rizzoli) assembled by brothers Roger and Mauricio Padilha, and a current show of his work at the Suzanne Geiss Company in SoHo. What’s also bound to come through is how compelling Lopez himself was. “Everybody fell in love with him,” says Tippin. “Creative people who give you that much attention have a lot of power.”

ILLUSTRATION: A 1972 ILLUSTRATION OF JERRY HALL BY ANTONIO LOPEZ. COURTESY OF PAUL CARANICAS. © THE ESTATE OF ANTONIO LOPEZ AND JUAN RAMOS.