Sex, fashion and disco: forgotten footage of 1970s New York uncovered

Sex, fashion and disco: forgotten footage of 1970s New York uncovered

Against a nationwide tapestry of hardening politics, war, and intensifying race relations, 1970s New York rebelled with artistic, and sexual, abandon. A riotous new film shines a hazy spotlight on the era’s key arbiters of style: wildly seductive fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, his partner Juan Ramos, and later in Paris, Karl Lagerfeld.

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco starts in 1960s Lower Manhattan – a melting pot of creative talent, inclusive of disparate creative camps that cut a broad swathe through culture. Lopez’ days were spent working feverishly to create the latest looks, while nights were spent writhing at Max’s Kansas City, Hotel Chelsea and Club Sept with his bevy of charismatic beauties (Grace Jones, Jessica Lange, Jerry Hall) until dawn.

The feature length documentary charts a moment where the demimonde — homosexuality, club life and blurred gender lines — rises in a euphoric push, out of the club and onto the catwalk. Its driven by the nostalgic beat of Donna Summer, Chic and the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield.

‘I became fascinated with Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos through Interview magazine when I was a young teenager in rural Indiana,’ explains director James Crump. ‘Their magical lives and milieu aroused me no end and made me fantasise about the early 1970s in New York and Paris – a period I was too young to experience.’

In 1997, Crump met Paul Caranicas, Lopez’s and Ramos’s heir who has since given him unlimited access to many thousands of drawings, photographs and 8mm and 16mm footage. Offering never before seen footage, interviews and imagery, the film documents a transformative journey that Lopez and Ramos took in 1969 to Paris – itself in the midst of radical social and cultural change. Ostensibly visiting to sketch the latest collections by the fashion house, Chloe, they become fast friends with a lithe young Lagerfeld, forming an improbable, yet long-lasting, friendship.

Photography of a young Karl Lagerfeld, 1970, taken by Antonio Lopez

Karl Lagerfeld, Paris, 1970. Photography: Antonio Lopez. ©  The Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, 2012

It was the dawn of the age of the rock star fashion designer. Today, the Seventies are often looked back on as the halcyon days of ultimate, creative freedom, decadence, and sexual promiscuity before the black cloud of AIDS rumbled over.

Even with all we’ve learnt in the half century since Lopez’ prominence, the archival footage is just as relevant and prescient today. ‘Given the elements of race, ethnicity and sexuality that Antonio injected into fashion – a Puerto Rican-born, Bronx-raised bisexual – the film needed to be produced now at a moment when Latino, African-American and LGBTQ rights and issues are still being contested and under represented in dominant media and culture,’ says Crump. ‘Antonio envisioned what the future could look like. He is an ideal emblem of freedom and attainability worth remembering, especially now in the current post-election malaise.’