The fashion world lost a star when Stephen Sprouse died in 2005. But now, thanks to Jet Boy, a new show of his drawings opening this week at the Dorien Gray Gallery in New York's East Village, he's coming into focus again as a talented designer, artist, and fashion icon. The 35 drawings in the show span 1974 to 1988, the era when the iconic designer transitioned from the hallowed halls of fashion houses Bill Blass and Halston to the Lower East Side, where he met Andy Warhol and David Bowie, and fell into the center of the punk scene.
Gallery: Stephen Sprouse Drawings
From billowing red gowns to printed motorcycle jackets, the fashion captured in Sprouse's drawings represents both the quintessential style of the times and his innate eye for design. The colorful sketches chart his influences, touching on everyone from Jackie Kennedy, whose pants he hemmed at Halston, to his punk princess Debbie Harry. During the 1980s, as he befriended Warhol, Keith Haring, and Bowie, Sprouse's drawings evolved from carefully studied and controlled to loose and gestural. Scrawled across one drawing are the words from a Patti Smith lyric: "Starts Pumpinnn—My Heart (Pumpin)."
"That sensibility that he got from the streets and the people that he was meeting parlayed into this explosive sense of his own design that was already on the make," says Carol McCranie, who curated the show. The images in the show are bolstered by a vast archive, which includes fabric swatches, text pieces, and photographs of Sprouse.
The title of the show, Jet Boy, is borrowed from a song title from the New York Dolls, the glam rock band that took New York by storm in the ‘70s, just as Sprouse's career was beginning. "In this show, you get the idea that any great designer or artist has moments of insecurity," says Louis Accorsi, the gallery's director. "That's how they push themselves. There's a looseness of these drawings—and then, all of a sudden, you see that he's figured it out."