How Andy Warhol Influenced Fashion
A look inside Andy Warhol's influence on culture & fashion; his art, what he wore and who he socialised with.
"How can you say one style is better than another? You ought to be able to be an Abstract Expressionist next week, or a Pop artist, or a realist, without feeling you've given up something.. I think that would be so great, to be able to change styles. And I think that's what's is going to happen, that's going to be the whole new scene." - Andy Warhol
Words by Kirsty Lee
To most of the people who have heard of him, he is a name handed down from a distant museum-culture, the guy who paints soup cans and knows all the movie stars. To a smaller but international public, he is the last of the truly successful social portraitists - a man so interested in elites he has his own social magazine! But Warhol has never been a 'popular artist' - that kind of popularity entails being seen as a normal and exemplary person from whom extraordinary things emerge. He had an air of mystique surrounding his work, in the sixties there was a quantative difference between the perceptions of high art and the million daily instructions issued by popular culture. Since then Warhol has probably done more than any other living artist to wear that distinction down - but to be accessible is to lose magic!
The Early Years
In the 1950s Warhol was making a living as part of Doubleday's stable of freelance artists. In the spring of 1959, legendary decorator and bohemian socialite Suzie Frankfurt stumbled across the whimsical flowers and butterflies watercolours of a young artist's work at an exhibition at Manhattan's Serendipity ice cream parlour - Warhol of course! Their friendship flourished and they collaborated on a series of handmade books for New York's beau monde that mocked the fashionable, mass-produced French cuisine cookbooks popular in the 1950's. They called it Wild Raspberries (Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries had just been released...) - and it is hands down the funniest, most fanciful cookbook ever produced. From omelette Greta Garbo (made without eggs and designed to be eaten alone in a candlelit room) to Chocolate Balls a la Chambord (which instructs us to decorate a ten inch silver platter with maraschino cherries, mint and almond fillets then call up the royal pastry shop and have them deliver a pound and a half of chocolate balls - Serve only with no-cal ginger ale and only to thin people) Comedy gold! Piglet a la Trader Vic's (which instructs us to send a chauffeur to the Plaza Hotel's famous restaurant and order a suckling pig to go). Warhol illustrated them, Frankfurt wrote some recipes and his mother did the calligraphy. Partnerships as direct and simple as the recipes themselves, one might even say as daring. The result was enchantingly mesmerising! Frankfurt's son perfectly summarises their signature allure - 'clearly [the recipes] won't help your cooking, but they are indicative of all of Andy's work: they are immediate….Wild Raspberries, like everything Warhol did, is about finished product, not about the process.' The 'cookbook' offers a fascinating prequel to Warhol's budding pop art aesthetic.
His omnivorous curiosity resulted in an enormous body of work that spanned every available medium and most importantly contributed to the collapse of boundaries between high and low culture! A skilled social networker, Warhol parlayed his fame, one connection at a time, to the status of a globally recognised brand. By 1960, Warhol had become one of the most successful commercial artists in New York. We're taking a dive into his past to see where the silver haired maverick popped up over the years. The answer is….everywhere, the results yielded more than there are pages in Warhol's infamous, telephone book-size diaries (808 pages). He drew with a distinctive and recognisable line, magazine illustrations, advertisements, book jackets and album covers. His breakthrough was as a commercial artist for clients such as Vogue, Columbia Records, Glamour magazine, Harpers Bazaar and Tiffany & Co. One of the art investments advertised in Vogue's December 1962 "More Art than Money" feature was Warhol's Campbell's Soup oil, priced at $200 (Christie's sold a painting from his series for $9,042,500). Like a cove ted vintage Levi's denim jacket, a Warhol is a status symbol for any collector of modern art.
As a painter, Warhol created images based on products and advertising in popular culture, fusing commonplace, mass-manufactured images with mechanical reproduction, a style that came to be known as pop art. The artist who predicted today's culture of fame, was obsessed with becoming famous. John Lennon Called him "the biggest publicity man in the world", but it hadn't come easily! Moving to New York in 1949 and working in magazine illustration and advertising, Warhol's commercial background repelled the artistic intelligentsia. His big break finally came in 1962, with a one-man exhibition at the Ferus Gallery, in Los Angeles. This was "32 Campbell's Soup Cans" - Literally 32 paintings of soup cans, each a different flavour. A New York Show soon followed, and by 1964, the year the "Brillo Soap Pads Box" sculptures, he was being written up in Time.
The Velvet Underground
In the days before independent labels or DIY recording, it's a miracle the Velvet Underground were allowed to step foot inside a studio at all. But they were - and for that, we mostly have Andy Warhol to thank. Warhol's fame in the art world was at critical and popular peak; he'd abandoned painting and had started to venture into experimental filmmaking and multimedia productions. He wanted a rock band for a new performance instalment he had in mind, and with the Velvet Underground, he found them. One of Warhol's lasting legacies - besides managing The Velvet Underground will forever be his impact on the way the world sees bananas! The banana itself is one of the most recognisable pieces of pop artwork, the original album cover allowed fans to peel back the banana skin as a sticker, revealing the fruit of a nude-coloured banana underneath - the time it took to perfect the peel was part of the reason behind the albums delayed release because the sexually charged effect was difficult for manufacturers to pull off! Alas, it was only in the decades after The Velvet Undergrounds breakup that the band became a cult favourite, transforming their rare peel-off sticker album into a rare collector's item and a symbol of the protopunk genre.
Warhol, an inventor of Pop art, film and photography was also no surprise, a major trendsetter. His artistic career was intrinsically tied to fashion, from his early clothing ads in the 50's to his decades-long friendship with legendary designer Halston. To honour him and the influence he still has on what we wear today we're taking a look back at his classic style. He understood that to be a true artist distinctive style was crucial, he considered his retinue an exhibition in itself, "Fashion wasn't what you wore someplace…It was the whole reason for going". His simply consisted of dyed grey/platinum blonde hair, wide striped tee's, jacket layering, clear glasses, all black attire and last but not least… body painting.
The Warholian 'Factory girl' look consisting of smokey eyes, giant accessories, black and white motifs and short hem lines was inspired by no other than Edie Sedgwick - 'When I was with Andy Warhol, I was dancing jazz ballet twice a day, so I just wore leotards and I knew I wasn't going to turn anybody on...When I went out on the street I'd put on a coat". She stared in movies with names like Vinyl and Horse and in clip from 1965 of The Merv Griffin Show her dress is little more than a bodysuit with a collar and her trademark triangular earrings.
The images of his female muses are among his most striking and form a substantial body of work. The emphasis is on their lips, hair, and eye shadow making his subjects including Joan Collins, Grace, Jones, Diane Von Furstenberg and Jackie Kennedy sought after pop art. Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor and Red Jackie were originally part of a 1962-3 series called Death and Disaster. Marilyn was painted just two weeks after her suicide in 1962, Liz Taylor was gravely ill when he created her painting. While Warhol may have delved into these women's darkness and the sorrow surrounding them, the artist was unashamedly obsessed with beauty and how to capture it. "Even beauties can be unattractive," he once said, "If you catch a beauty in the wrong light at the right time, forget it". He made sure this didn't happen with an art version of retouching, he painted his subjects faces with white paint so their features stood out on the Polaroid's which formed the basis for his screen prints. Yet there was nobody more beautiful to Andy Warhol than socialite Edie Sedgwick.
Warhol had already begun making movies, and he "wrote" (using a tape recorder) a novel, entitled "a." In the mid-nineteen-sixties, his studio on East Forty-seventh Street, known as the Factory, was a center of avant-garde activity. Virtually everyone fashionable in art, ideas, and entertainment passed through it, from Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan to Susan Sontag and John Ashbery. Amphetamines were the drug of choice in the Factory; transvestism was the fashion. The culture around Warhol was a culture of high artifice; its icon was the drag queen and the gossip and the posing. Warhol himself wore jeans and took only prescription diet pills. Within the Factory, he was known as Drella, after the two sides of his personality, Dracula and Cinderella. As an artist, he was astonishingly productive and a great risk-taker. At a time when it seemed that everyone was going too far, he went farther. Then, in 1968, a paranoid schizophrenic named Valerie Solanas shot Warhol and nearly killed him over a script, and although he returned to painting and to a jet-set social life, his work was never again on the leading edge of the contemporary arts.