Fashion & The Keith Haring Effect

It was in 1985 that Andy Warhol took a photo documenting the singer Grace Jones standing with her arms out, while the artist Keith Haring applied his signature squiggle marks to her body. Thought to be taken just before she went out on stage for a performance at a New York nightclub, the decorative patterns appear energetic as though they’re moving.

alice + olivia by Stacey Bendet collection in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation. Photo: Courtesy of PR.

They’re instantly recognisable as belonging to the late Haring who, though he lived a tragically short life, dying at the age of just 31, found his lively and bold work to find life beyond the confines of the art world (though he also counted his contemporaries such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and indeed Warhol as friends) and across the pop cultural spheres from music to fashion and the New York subway, where commuters would enjoy his chalk-drawn vistas.

Notably, Madonna would often wear pieces he had graffitied – and it’s within the style arena, especially, that his legacy lives on.

For the Spring/Summer 2018 collection by Coach, creative director Stuart Vevers teamed up with the Keith Haring Foundation to put the artist’s iconic graphics into the collection. Before that you’ll have clocked his work on hook-ups with Uniqlo, Nicholas Kirkwood, Reebok, Be@rbrick, Tom’s, Moleskine, and a whole lot more. Skipping ahead to now, not only is his work the subject of a major large-scale exhibition at the Tate Liverpool next year but the contemporary and colourful label alice + olivia by Stacey Bendet has drawn upon his upbeat aesthetic for a new-season collection.

Coach Spring/Summer 2018 runway show in New York. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

“I have always been a big fan of his graphic bold aesthetic, his signature primary colour palette, and the way he used art to help,” says Stacey Bendet, the founder, CEO, and creative director of the brand for whom artistic collaborations have always been important. Previous team-ups have included with Domingo Zapata, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Donald Robertson.

“Sometimes art from the art world is beautiful or powerful but it only speaks to a very small audience. Keith made sure his art spoke to everyone – as he said, art is for everybody,” she continues.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1958, Haring counted Dr Seuss and Walt Disney as early illustration influences. He studied at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh before dropping out and making a move to New York in 1978 where he enrolled at the School of Visual Arts, as well as the lively New York downtown community of artists, graffiti artists, performers, writers, and creatives.

Not just part of the scene, he was a creator of it: his distinctive penchant for public artworks and social messaging not only stood out as something new and, at the time, potentially controversial to the art crowd, but enabled it to be accessed by everybody, which is the point of the Keith Haring Foundation still today. Initiated by Haring before his death, the foundation sets out to preserve the footprint of his work, the access of it, and to ensure the continuation of his philanthropic activities, which includes charitable and educational initiatives for underprivileged children as well as raising awareness for and supporting those connected to AIDS and HIV. Haring sadly died in 1990 from AIDS-related complications.

alice + olivia by Stacey Bendet collection in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation. Photos: Courtesy of PR.

“Keith’s work was about democratizing art and about allowing everyone to experience his creativity and his message. He was one of the first activist artists and that was inspiring to me,” says Bendet. “As a designer, I am always inspired by visual works – art, films, colours, architecture. I often say, you see a fabric, you see a dress! It is the same with a painting… many see the artwork; I see it coming to life as a fabric or dress or pant.”

Of course, she’s not the only one. While art and fashion have often had a fraught relationship in terms of each being described as the other at one point or another, they plentifully find themselves rubbing shoulders when it comes to sources of inspiration.

Raf Simons has long looked to the art world, working with Sterling Ruby for his own collections as well as at Christian Dior, and now at Calvin Klein tapping Warhol prints. Marc Jacobs, during his Louis Vuitton days, enlisted the artistic eye of Stephen Sprouse, Yayoi Kusama, Richard Prince, and Takashi Murakami for accessories and concepts that are still legend today. Kim Jones at new-look Dior Homme teamed up with KAWS for his debut. And let us not forget that Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí could see the benefits of the whole art-fashion overlap idea, having pinned it down themselves back in 1937 with the famous lobster dress.

Left: Dior by Raf Simons Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2012 show in Paris. Right: Dior by Raf Simons Ready-to-Wear Fall/Winter 2013 show in Paris. Photos by NOWFASHION. 

“The Eighties aesthetic is having such a major resurgence in terms of both art and fashion,” says Bendet of why the collaboration has come into effect now; why it feels right. Indeed, the Eighties was the decade in which Haring achieved international recognition and was featured in a host of solo exhibitions. Certainly, the logo-mania of the era is having a moment too – and Haring’s cartoonish imprints more than chime with that.