“I'm Antonio, and I'm going to draw you, girl!” This is model and author Pat Cleveland's earliest memory of meeting Antonio Lopez. It's something Lopez liked to say when he spotted a muse in the rough, whereupon the gorgeous, charismatic and above all game-changingly gifted fashion illustrator would seduce, inspire and transform the object of his attention into that day's indelible fantasy.
His drawings, while ostensibly of the couture and ready-to-wear garments presented by the chicest fashion houses of the day, were immediately recognized at the time as being an absolutely new approach to his genre. His impeccable rendering skills in both the figure and the clothing formed a foundation for flights of fancy that injected narrative scenes and symbolism, wild patterns and emotional color, into otherwise familiar illustrations. These drawings transcended their functionality and truly became fine art. Everyone was crazy about them, and Lopez — along with his constant partner and collaborator, Juan Ramos — worked with the best magazines, designers and editors the fashion world has ever known.
Photographer Bill Cunningham recounts the art-making sessions, describing how “Antonio would draw. He was born with it,” he had the fire and the flair. “Juan would color, he was refined, he had taste. It was the best possible collaboration.” The men had met and fallen in love at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology but left after a year, already in demand to work at Women's Wear Daily, The New York Times, Vogue, Elle and, often, directly with the designers themselves. This all happened mainly between about 1967 and '73, but the impact made by the work produced by Lopez, Ramos and their entourage of exotic, liberated, photogenic beauties is still being felt to this day.
Less of an academic documentary film and more of a yearbook vivant, James Crump's Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco revisits the high and higher points of this era through archival footage and present-day interviews with many of the stars in that firmament. Among those participating are future supernovas like Jessica Lange, Grace Jones, Bob Colacello, Jerry Hall (to whom Lopez was engaged at one point), Grace Coddington, Michael Chow, Patti D'Arbanville, Karl Lagerfeld, Bill Cunningham and Joan Juliet Buck.
As one after another they echo each other's recollections of heady days, elevated nights, sexual adventurism and creative intensity, there isn't one sour note in their memories of Lopez or the time. There is laughing and, later, some deep soul crying when they have to remember that he died (of AIDS, after a prolonged battle, in 1987), and their feeling of profound loss for themselves and the world is still acute after all this time.
The film delves into the intimate relationship between Antonio, Juan and Karl Lagerfeld; Lagerfeld's rivalry with Yves Saint Laurent; and the making of Andy Warhol's L'Amour in Paris, largely at Lagerfeld's apartment where the men had taken up residence. At one point, Lopez and Ramos occupied a studio above Carnegie Hall, and their neighbor was Norman Mailer. The Chelsea Hotel makes its presence known as well.
But Lopez's proper milieu became standing “reservations” at Max's Kansas City and Paris' Club Sept. These were times of drugs and sex and being naked on camera and shaving your eyebrows and dancing all night and doing Paris runway shows with hookers and making art nonstop and did I mention sex? There was a lot. Like, a lot.
But the people interviewed for this film all remember those as golden days of innocence and promise, not with shame but with pride. They knew then and came to even more fully appreciate that what they did together was something truly special. “We were all caught up in Antonio's dream,” they say. “You couldn't meet him and not fall in love with him.”