Celebrating sex, fashion and disco in 1970s New York
Sass, selfies and raw sexuality.
[T]he snow globe of the 70s: a shimmering moment that was about seizing a spirit of complete freedom; dressing however you liked; having sex with whoever you liked. Sliding out of the sixties, a new libertine attitude was starting to take over.In the early days of disco, pre-Studio 54, fashion was opening its self up to a new wave of endless possibilities, prêt-à-porter was in its infancy and fashion designers were suddenly thrust into the starry spotlight.
A dazzling new documentary, Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco, is a cinematic love letter to Paris and NYC between 1969 and 1973, through the eyes of one of the most famed illustrators of the time and the most fabulous personalities who defined an era (Pat Cleveland, Donna Jordan, Tina Chow, Grace Jones and more).
Given the current social climate today – where African-American, Latino and LGBTQ rights are still being contested in dominant media – it seems potent to celebrate Antonio Lopez, a Puerto Rican-born, Bronx-raised bisexual who injected race, ethnicity and raw sexuality into fashion. We caught up with filmmaker James Crump, to reveal how the legendary artist captured the pulse of style in the early 70s, brought a unique observation of the street and popularised the selfie pre-Instagram.
“I really wanted people, especially a younger audience, to discover Antonio [Lopez] as an individual and this person who was a driving force, [a] kind of larger than life character. In more general terms I wanted people to indulge in this particular moment of freedom and liberation where it seemed like everything was attainable, everything was possible. When we set out to make this film we were really going for a time capsule affect. We really wanted to have the viewer stretch that long and be transported to 1970 and that scene. This was just after everything that was fought for in the late 60s – civil rights movement, gay rights, women’s rights – we began to feel that we had a future. It was short-lived, however. Some people would call it a more “innocent” period, because as the decade wears on, [it] gets darker and more druggy; it’s more challenging and promiscuous and with the cloud of AIDS hovering in the distance.
It’s a time when people, like Antonio had proved, were driven by power, obsession and love. It’s not about the bottom line [or] the profit motive. It’s about doing something that’s an additive to society, with no rules. Everything is possible. The film delves a lot into sexuality, with the subjects that Antonio discovered and their love for him and freedom to fall in and out of bed with this character. In a way it’s a story about love: there’s a kind of naivety.
"People talk a lot about diversity, models of colour [and] The Year of the Trans Model on the runway now and I think Antonio was advocating for similar things as early as the mid-1960s."
Antonio’s been a resonance for me, really since I was a teenager growing up in the mid West in the United States. I discovered his work through Interview magazine – later on after I finished graduate school I met Paul Caranicas and learned about the archive and I would go over there. What really drove my interest was really the Instamatic photographs, and then the drawings and feeling like I had been born too late. I was around in the 70s but I was just too young to indulge in this really special moment. Antonio and his mash up of poets, filmakers and fashion people were having so much fun; back then it was an incredible bohemian moment and that really inspired me.
It seemed like the right time to make this kind of film now. We began making it long before the election cycle last year but the things that are happening now make this film seem very timely. Like Antonio, there are some subcultures that are battling the same issues he was at the time – for instance he moved to Paris from New York in the late sixties because Paris was a seemingly more free place. People talk a lot about diversity, models of colour [and] The Year of the Trans Model on the runway now and I think Antonio was advocating for similar things as early as the mid-1960s. In regards to fashion, if you look at the last few seasons you’re seeing Antonio’s influence very clearly, from Kenzo to Jeremy Scott at Moschino, sampling some of the aesthetics that came from that period.
I think Antonio would have completely embraced Instagram and social media. Before Instagram, Antonio had an Instamatic camera – he was doing selfies and there was a certain narcissism that existed in an interest in recording one’s activities. Whether preparing to go out all night partying or whatever. But if you think of the kind of recording he did, he was very aware of wanting to capture something that might be remembered later; that his archive would somehow be revealed and a trove that people would be able to go to and study and be influenced by.
I always thought of [Antonio] as homosexually identified, but he wasn’t bound by any category. He was fluid that way. Sexuality, dance [and] music is a kind of seamless part of the practice and I think that comes through in the actual work. I think there’s something about that movement – there’s no separation between the work and the life. It very much blended together. He’s not waking up saying “let’s go to work,” it’s constantly going on, constantly sampling and creating. His life force is really the work.
"I think Antonio would have completely embraced Instagram and social media. Before Instagram, Antonio had an Instamatic camera - he was doing selfies and there was a certain narcissism that existed in an interest in recording one’s activities."
He brought a kind of street style to fashion, at the beginnings of prêt-à-porter and moving out of this stiff, post-War, couture mentality that existed in the high echelons of fashion at the time. He was not interested in this standardised idea of beauty that was embraced by certain editors. The women that Antonio was drawn to were unusual beauties – he was able to see something that maybe the subject didn’t see themselves. Antonio’s going for these women, other than just pure beauty, they have personality. He was looking at people individually.
I think what’s so appealing to us today of that time, in this corporatized economy where everyone is made to feel dehumanised, is that it was about that pure freedom of being able to do whatever you wanted to do.”
Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco a film James Crump is on cinemas and demand from April 6th, head to sexfashiondisco.com for more information.
Main image: Jane Forth and Antonio Lopez, Carnegie Hall studios, New York, 1970 / CREDIT: Photograph by Juan Ramos. © Copyright The Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, 2012. From Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco directed by James Crump. Used by permission.