How Andy Warhol Left His Mark on Fashion

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In honor of Andy Warhol’s would-be 93rd birthday, we’re reflecting on his undeniable influence on fashion. Known as a leader — if not, the leader — of the Pop Art insurgence in the 1960s, Warhol explored the relationships between high art and consumption through thought-provoking commentary on American culture, and thus sparking anew. He shifted the mediums of film, painting, photography, silkscreening, sculpture, publishing, and even music, effectively Midas-touching almost every corner of consumable American art, especially fashion.

Before he painted those famous cans, Warhol worked in fashion publishing. In the late 1950’s he drew fashion illustrations for adverts and articles and designed magazine layouts for the top glossy’s at the time, including Harper’s Bazaar. The infamous fashion editor Diana Vreeland would call him “Andy Paperbag” for the way he’d carry his work to and from the New York City office.

“Warhol loved magazines and these spreads are the epitome of his idea that art is for everyone,” says Darren Pih, curator of Transmitting Andy Warhol, the exhibit at Tate Liverpool which celebrated Warhol’s democratic philosophy on art and mass media.

In his December 1962 spread, Warhol’s repetition of screenprinted imagery is a piece of his deep exploration of the medium during the summer of that same year in his own work. That August, around the same time, Marilyn Monroe passed. From her death to the New Year, he created a total of 20 silkscreen paintings from the same image of the star, including the famous Marilyn Diptych.

created his famous Campbell’s Soup Cans earlier that same year and unveiled the work that July in his first gallery exhibition in Los Angeles, debuting Pop Art on the West Coast. In the mid-1960s, he became one of the first artist to merge high art and fashion with the arrival of the “Souper Dress,” a screen-printed tissue paper dress that donned the catchy cans. The dress was designed to be thrown out after use, marketed with the tagline, “It’s Carefree,” exemplifying the rising mass consumerist culture and it’s disposability. The first sign of fast fashion perhaps?

Naturally, the soup company took advantage of the wide press Warhol was creating and sold their own version that anyone could buy, in exchange for and two Campbell’s soup labels sent via mail. It kicked off a trend of paper Pop Art-printed dresses, utilized partly for advertisement and for aesthetic, in a mass distribution of high art depicting American culture, in turn becoming American culture — life imitating Pop Art and vice versa.

The trend even traveled across the pond, landing on style icons like Twiggy, Mick Jagger and Jean Shrimpton, as British boutiques began commissioning Pop Art-printed dresses and t-shirts in the 1970s. And as mass-market fashion boomed, high fashion followed.

Warhol became friends with prominent fashion designers and cultural figures, and his founding of Interview Magazine in 1969, nicknamed “The Crystal Ball of Pop,” strengthened his ties to fashion as he personally interviewed the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, and Halston. Warhol also socialized with his creative peers at Studio 54, in a pivotal time in American culture when fashion designers and artists began to socialize in the same circles and inspire each other’s work. Warhol once said of his friend, “to get into [Studio] 54 you either have to go with Halston or wear Halston.” One’s fashion became the reason for attending an event, rather than something they happened to be wearing at it, and the “Souper Dress” was a statement designer for society women to wear to glamourous events.

In 1972, Halston invited Warhol to create his runway show at the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards in their first collaboration in a storied creative friendship. It was a wacky presentation, named “Onstage Happening by Andy Warhol,” that combined Halston models and Warhol muses (“Halstonettes and “Superstars”), wherein the show actress Donna Jordan flung up her Halston outfit to reveal nothing on underneath, Jane Forth walked with her baby son to the footlights and left him there, China Machado played the bongos, a model performed a juggling act, and Pat Ast, who starred in Warhol’s movie “Heat” closed with a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” performed from inside an enormous fake birthday cake. Dubbed the “first All-American fashion designer,” by Warhol, the two continued to swap stars and motifs throughout their respective careers, where Warhol would cast Halston’s fashion models in his films, and Halston printed Warhol’s hibiscus flowers on a gown in 1972.

Warhol’s friendship with Stephen Sprouse brought his prints to the runway in his 1988 collection. Sprouse was intrigued by Warhol’s Camouflage screen-print series he began in 1986 for its resembalence to to abstract expressionism. The two embarked on a collaborative line using the prints, though Warhol passed midway through its creation in 1987.

Though Warhol’s work in fashion was just getting started, his art, persona, and spirit continues to influences designers and fashion lovers alike. He created the very idea of campy Americana, where irony is utilized to both celebrate and reflect upon the best and worst parts of American culture— ideas of mass media and consumption that ring true today.

After his death, Mick Jagger said, “The thing that he seemed to be able to do was to capture society, whatever part of it he wanted to portray, pretty accurately. That’s one of the things artists do, is show people later on what it was like.”

Warhol broke the bounds of what art was expected to look or act like in his time and found inspiration from the people around him. As we near the 2021 Met Gala, themed “American Fashion,” hopefully we can expect some Warhol-isms on the red carpet, as he was also very present for 2019’s exhibit, “CAMP: Notes on Fashion.”

Warhol’s iconography has inspired legendary collections by Gianni Versace, Jeremy Scott, and Raf Simons, informing a range of strong perspectives, where he’s mass-consumed and mass-adored.

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