You see the blonde wig, the clear plastic glasses and the razor-sharp silhouette and you know who it is immediately. It’s Andy Warhol. One of the world’s most well-known artists and a cult-figure of the 1960’s, he’s as instantly recognisable as his brightly-coloured screenprints.
Riding the wave of the era’s Pop Art movement, he reflected the western world back at itself and changed society forever. Think of Warhol and you think of his Marilyns, his tins of soup, his Cola Bottles and a slew of controversial films.
Andy wouldn’t be put in a box - he tried his hand at everything… from painting to fashion. Throughout his life, the business of clothes played an important part in how he worked and it went way beyond the garments themselves.
For Andy, it wasn’t just a case of art versus fashion. In his mind, art was fashion.
Before we explain why, let’s go back… way back to 1949 when Andy first moved to New York.
After a childhood spent sketching and obsessing over celebrities, Andrew Warhol went onto study commercial art and after graduating, moved to the Big Apple. Dropping the ‘a’ from his surname soon after arriving.
Only two days into this new life, he scored his big break. Commissioned as an illustrator for Glamour magazine, he established himself as a commercial artist for famous fashion titles and brands like Harper’s Bazaar, Christian Dior, Vogue and Vanity Fair.
His advertising work throughout the 50’s covered highly stylised bags, gloves, jewellery and shoes. Lots and lots of shoes.
As successful as he was, with the 60’s on the horizon, he wanted a change. Hoping to reinvent himself, he pivoted his career in illustration into the fine art scene, fascinated by the newly emerging Pop Art movement led by the likes of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Loud and lurid, this artistic trend was defined by its use of imagery lifted from mass-produced consumer goods and popular culture. It tuned into everything that Andy loved and he wanted a piece of it. Little did he know that within ten years, he would be given the title of “Pope of Pop”.
After his first foray into fine art - a black and white painting of a Coca Cola bottle - he was stuck with what to do next. Seeking advice from a friend, he was told to simply paint “something that everybody recognises.” Having eaten Campbell’s soup everyday of his life, Andy found artistic inspiration on his own dining table.
32 prints later, he covered an entire gallery space with finely-rendered images of tins of Campbell’s soup. A print for every flavour of broth the company sold. The piece marked out a whole new way of creating for the artist and represented a complete break from the previous decade’s Abstract Expressionism - think loads of splashes of paint. They may at first have been a flop with the critics but Andy went onto revolutionise the art world with these prints and it was all thanks to his lunch.
231 East 47th Street was the address of Andy’s first foil-covered studios. Nicknamed The Factory, a coterie of his friends and followers revolved around these spaces. There to help produce his work, be photographed by the artist or simply hang out and party.
Described as an assembly line - from The Factory, Andy created not only films, prints and sculpture but dresses too.
He said it himself after all: "I'd rather buy a dress and put it up on the wall, than put a painting…”
After the popularity of his tins, he turned the prints into wearable fashion items, using the design over a series of dresses. Going on to give the same treatment to his Fragile, Brillo and Banana garments. Made as unique items, they were quickly copied by Campbell’s themselves. Sent to any customer with two Campbell’s soup can labels and $1, these Campbell’s knock-off Souper dresses were made from paper and produced on a huge scale. A turn of events that Andy surely would’ve loved.
His later Marilyn Monroe works, reproduced in multiple palettes, were created as responses to mass culture. Observations on the consumerist nature of how we live, they were hung together to form repetitive patterns of colour like a supermarket shelf. Those earlier connections to fashion advertising and his childhood love of celebrity being expressed through his art.
From the get-go, Andy understood the power of personal branding. Nurturing a public persona with enigmatic media encounters and a uniform-like sense of style. He marketed himself and it worked, he quickly became a household name. Over the years, he starred in advertisements for TDK video tapes, Vidal Sassoon hairspray and posthumously for Burger King which screened a clip of him simply eating one of their meals. Delicious.
His identity was all part of his work as was his social life. Being seen and meeting new people was an artform in itself. Endless nights at fashion’s favourite club, Studio 54, led to encounters with designers of the day including Giorgio Armani, Betsey Johnson, Gianni Versace and Halston.
All of whom featured heavily in his next venture - a style magazine. Launched in 1969, Interview made use of an experimental format to profile celebrities and cult icons. Models such as Iman, Bianca Jagger and Jerry Hall graced its pages alongside aristocrats and cutting edge artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
His influence spread throughout the creative arts and the fashion industry wasn’t immune. Andy became muse and to this day designers find inspiration in all things Warhol. Early on, Yves Saint Laurent’s Autumn/Winter 1966 collection featured Pop Art motifs and in the 80’s, Andy allowed his close friend, the designer Stephen Sprouse, to use his camo prints over garments. The image of an early 90’s Naomi Campell striding down the Versace catwalk in a Marilyn Monroe emblazoned gown has also gone down in fashion legend.
In the 21st century, his impact can still be felt through Christian Dior, which featured his shoe adverts over pieces in 2013, and Calvin Klein Spring/Summer 2018 which made use of his Disaster series. Even now, Jeremy Scott’s designs for Moschino are peak Warholian.
But who’s to say it wasn’t a symbiotic relationship? Andy was drawn to whatever was next, this pursuit of novelty and his mix of art and commerce is how the fashion industry itself works. His first decade in New York drawing clothes held a sway over him throughout his life. He didn’t see a dichotomy between art and fashion, they were one and the same. And just a few nights before his death in 1987, he took to the catwalk to model for the designer, Koshin Satoh’s show and when he was buried, it was in a Stephen Sprouse suit.
Andy Warhol constantly put forward alternative ways for us to live, express ourselves and think about the world. His works still resonate with us decades after they were created, his predictions for society coming to pass. His most overused quote may be “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” but his impact has lasted on much longer than a quarter of an hour.