New York has always been both raw and refined, ever present qualities of the Stephen Sprouse aesthetic Both the city and the clothes were spectacularly scandalous back then, and a tad sinister too. But more on the clothes later as I attempt to color in what life in this city was and could be. It was by turns indescribably glamorous and then, just two or three blocks away, sketchy and foreboding. I’m talking about the New York of 1984.
The Ronald Wilson Reagan White House oversaw the bulls of Wall street as they began their cannibalistic feast on the economy – by then no one knew, the fat was finite.
Mayor Edward Koch saw to it that all the land pirates and their go-go behaviors were accommodated just fine, while Tom Wolfe ‘s “The Bonfire of the Vanities ” was providing a foreshadowing of things to come, in delicious increments in The Rolling Stone Magazine.
For those too impatient to wait through all of the 27 or so installments, there was Oliver Stone giving us “Wall Street” and it’s “Greed is Good” mantra. Investment money was rolling in, after the way scary financial wasteland of the 70’s. So New York was back. Hotels packed, theaters sold out, restaurants booked solid. Anything could happen.
All the while, in the nether regions of downtown, there was another sort of fever dream and the temperature was rising. This was the world of “the great downtown scene” and its stars were Jean- Michel Basquiat , Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Robert Mapplethorpe, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones. The Paradise Garage and Area were our hangouts.
In the midst of all of this, the fashion world was abuzz over the “new one”: Stephen Sprouse.
To understand Sprouse, you need to visualize the backdrop and playground for his cast of fantastic creatures, his entourage. They could have just as well been the creative side of whacked-out ad agency, given the talent this bunch had. But office hours were never for them. They were hard-partying, absurdly glam. A click-ish bunch, and kind of shady, to boot. Think of that group of the C- word, of baddest girls in baddest assed high school. Now replace those girls with a whip-thin, laser–tongued, hilarious transsexual named Teri Toye who would go on to do runway shows for Mr. Lagerfeld’s Chanel couture, and en-route, manage to inject the word “Genius!” into the vocabulary of nearly everyone in the industry. Add to this, the be-wigged black sun-glassed (day & night), Vogue lens-man
Area, the nightclub, was the stage we performed in. And Stephen Sprouse for many, many months, was what you wanted to wear into this Fellini-esque circus where, nightly, the melange of slumming royals danced next to the celestially arrayed Leigh Bowery.
S/he, in turn, rubbed shoulders with a tranny drug dealer in Valentino couture and her straight Hollywood handsome security trader millionaire date. Plus, the latest It-Girl from Click model agency, Matt Dillon, David Hockney, Nile Rogers, the list was endless….It was a mess in all the best ways. No bottle service, no wanna-be’s everybody was “it!”
And there was no one better than Stephen Sprouse to synthesize all of this dazzling display into high fashion for the underground.
No one in those years could beat his alchemy of top flight craftsmanship. Nor his refined sensitivity, aimed point blank the prevailing zeitgeist. It was he who sought out the most exquisite fabrics in a “shock-the-gods” color pallete -rattle-your-nerves neon.
Add to this; black, always chic black. The spray paint subway worthy, wonky slanted graffiti on it, to extol the triad of the virtues revered by Sprouse: LOVE , ROCK and SEX. As well as… the Laugh-in era A -line mini dresses with geometric cut outs, all so beautifully draped, cut and constructed these were overlaid with both opalescent and translucent, mother of pearl sequins. And, believe it or not. Sir Stephen had the mastery and nerve to make all that – are you ready for this? Simple!!!
For men, there were Teddy boy clean lines on nehru jackets. Those with lapels sported contrasting collars above narrow shoulders from which high set armholes, draped through Saville Row quality, the skinniest of a sleeve with surgical precision. He made all that fuse into poetry in fabric. By comparison a plain glass of water would appear overwrought.
He earned his place in history, surely. But attention should be paid to him now, in the present climate of corporate monopolized culture that fashion now finds itself in. It’s time to look back to the talents that have — from vision, craft ,magic, and skill — crafted with constructed garments that were fully formed magnificence.
Gary The Editor
Article edited by: Arnold Barkus