Stephen Sprouse’s Indianapolis show gives New York darling his due homecoming

INDIANAPOLIS — Rolling Stones music blared from speakers at the Ritz nightclub on East 11th Street in Manhattan as men and women walked side by side on the floor. More than 1,500 spectators, sweat shimmering on their necks in the tight space, rated the creations that glow in the dark under strobe lights.

But that show didn’t happen last week, or last year, or even in the last decade. It was the debut of designer Stephen Sprouse’s second collection 38 years ago, in May 1984.

“He was so, so ahead of his time,” said rock legend Debbie Harry, 77, who shared a bathroom and kitchen with Sprouse in an East Village loft for several years in the mid-1990s. 1970s, in a recent telephone interview. .

In the 1980s, Sprouse, who died in 2004, distinguished himself as a designer with Day-Glo sets that mixed graffiti and paisley, bringing a punk-rock sensibility to high-end clothing. He created iconic looks for Mrs. Harry, Axl Rose and Billy Idol, and his later collections incorporated the art of friends such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol.

The designer’s eclectic aesthetic is on display in a new exhibit, “Stephen Sprouse: Rock, Art, Fashion,” which opened this month at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in the state where Sprouse grew up.

The show, the largest survey of Sprouse’s work to date, showcases his passion for punk couture, including many never-before-seen ensembles since their catwalk debut in the late 1990s, including a version from asymmetrical silver dress that Mrs. Harry wore in Blondie’s 1979 “Heart of Glass” music video and a polyester and metal button dress worn by model Kate Moss in a 1996 advertisement for the “Choose or Lose” from MTV.

“I hope people appreciate how talented and revolutionary he was,” said Niloo Paydar, curator of textile arts and fashion at the museum.

The pieces, which also include two portraits of Sprouse painted by Warhol, a close friend of the designer, are part of an archive of more than 10,000 objects that Sprouse’s mother, Joanne, and younger brother, Bradford, donated at the museum of 2018.

“Mom really wanted to give it to the IMA because she knew they would take good care of it and a lot of people would get to see it,” Bradford Sprouse said of the collection during a telephone interview.

“I mean, look at Warhol,” he added, referring to the decision to open the Andy Warhol Museum in the artist’s hometown of Pittsburgh in 1994. a line of other museums in the area.”

During a recent tour of the collection, Lauren Pollien, curatorial assistant at the museum, pointed out other show stealers: a neon nylon and spandex blouse printed with images of Mars taken by NASA’s Pathfinder mission ( as the runway audience for Sprouse’s fall 1999 show seen through 3D glasses); two Sprouse leather jackets hand-painted by Italian artist Stefano Castronovo in the mid-1980s featuring a young Warhol and Mrs. Harry; a 1988 silk-velvet bubble dress with Haring’s famous dancing squiggles; two graffiti-adorned handbags from the Louis Vuitton Spring 2001 collection; and a number of oversized denim suits, which Ms Pollien said initially left curators perplexed as they could not determine whether they were for men or women.

“He designed for both,” she said. In addition to the prescient nonconformity of his designs, which disregarded gender binaries, Sprouse’s collaborations with Teri Toye made him one of the first designers to work with a transgender model.

When Sprouse was growing up in Columbus, Indiana, about 45 miles southeast of Indianapolis, his parents were initially unsure if he was a prodigy or just obsessed. The young designer drew in detail the spring and fall collections every year since he was about 10 years old, recalls Bradford Sprouse.

After his father took him to New York at the age of 12 to meet designers Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and Norman Norell, he began his career as an assistant for Halston, another native of Indiana, New York in 1972.

“We’ve had such a strange life,” Dennis Christopher, 79, a friend and former Halston aide, said in a phone interview. “We would go to Diana Vreeland’s for dinner in a limo then stand on the platform and count our money to see if we had enough change to take the metro home.”

In 1975, Sprouse moved to the East Village and began designing clothes for Mrs. Harry, his downstairs neighbor, before opening his business with a $1.4 million loan from his parents in 1983. So that Sprouse presented an intimidating exterior, he was known for his head. – black toe-length ensembles, nail polish and grungy black Dynel wigs – he was sweet and shy, his friends said.

“He let his designs do the talking for him,” said Candy Pratts Price, 73, Sprouse’s friend and former neighbor and former creative director of

He had a refrigerator-sized color Xerox machine in his apartment, on which he enlarged images of rock stars and newspaper headlines until they were distorted before reproducing them with paint on canvas. . His room shimmered Day-Glo blue under black lighting (one of his favorite sayings was “Does it glow?” recalls Jamie Boud, his longtime assistant).

He had a number of eccentricities that were both infuriating and endearing to his friends: He served his guests Bloody Marys in measuring cups – he owned no glasses – wrote phone numbers and addresses on his arm with a marker that he kept in his pocket, and often drew on his friends’ shoes.

“Watching him draw was like when you see a Japanese artist doing calligraphy with a brush,” Ms Harry said. “He had that flow and the beauty of movement. One of my favorite things to do was just sit back and watch Steve sit down and doodle casually on a piece of paper.

Her use of Velcro, Day-Glo colors, mirror sequins and high-tech fabrics were ahead of her time, helping propel her designs into the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

However, commercial success eludes him. His commitment to quality – he had developed a taste for expensive materials during his time at Halston, Mr Christopher said – and his disregard for his bottom line led him into financial trouble when he could not execute the orders. He filed for bankruptcy in 1985.

He made a return to the early 2000s with his spring 2001 collaboration with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, for which he graffitied a logo bag. (Harper’s Bazaar once claimed that the collection “launched a thousand waiting lists.”)

Then, in 2004, Sprouse, who was secretly battling lung cancer after smoking three packs of cigarettes a day for years, died of heart failure at age 50. He was buried in an Edie Sedgwick t-shirt, and after the funeral service mourners wrote messages to him on his wooden coffin with pens and markers.

“It’s a shame we lost him so soon,” Ms Pratts Price said. “He would have had so much fun designing for today’s world.”

At the Indianapolis Expo, true to Sprouse’s love of all things punk, the atmosphere is that of a rock concert. Visitors to the exhibit will hear a playlist of the music Sprouse used in his runway shows as they admire his explosive colors and bold graphic prints.

Bradford Sprouse, who was in Indianapolis this month to preview the exhibit and attend a punk concert hosted by the museum to celebrate the opening, said he hoped it could serve as an introduction to the work. of his brother for Midwesterners, many of whom don’t. realize the designer, who passed the last 33 years of his life in Manhattan, was originally from Indiana.

“I hope they go out there and get an education and an appreciation and an understanding of who he was and what he did,” he said. “Let them leave feeling good about an Indiana artist.”

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