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'Puerto Rican Henry Higgins' : Fashion Illustrator Antonio Lopez Dies

March 18, 1987|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Antonio Lopez, who liked to call himself the "Puerto Rican Henry Higgins" because of his ability to transform attractive women and one-dimensional drawings of high-fashion clothing into perfections of beauty, shape and detail, died Tuesday.

Known in international fashion centers simply as "Antonio," he was 44 when he died at UCLA Medical Center.

Susan Baraz, a model who graduated with Lopez from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 1962, said he died of Kaposi's sarcoma, a form of cancer common to AIDS victims.

Based in New York, Lopez had come to Los Angeles for a showing of his drawings at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica when he became ill and was hospitalized, said Baraz, who was Lopez's first model.

Lopez, credited with launching the careers of Jessica Lange, Jerry Hall, Tina Chow and Grace Jones, also was the first artist to use black models in his work, which was seen in American and Italian Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper's Bazaar magazines in the mid-1960s.

He also was credited with being the first artist to draw not only the inanimate creations of the haute couture but to idealize the models behind them.

Such European designers as Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino and Gianni Versace and such stores as Bloomingdale's in New York and Bullock's in Los Angeles used Lopez to draw their advertisements because he was able to create idealized images that went beyond photography.

"No one had ever seen anything like the way he drew," Baraz said. "He was a trend-setter, an innovator who put sex in fashion. Before him everyone did clothing but no one did anything about the person behind it."

Over the years, the San Juan native, who came to New York with his family when he was 8 and was encouraged to draw by his dressmaker mother, transcended advertising and became a trend unto himself.

His elaborately detailed drawings were credited with popularizing Mohawk haircuts, Afros, face paints, pierced earrings for men and even the Mad Max punk look.

His models--particularly Lange and Jones--went on to entertainment careers, and designers admitted that they developed new ideas from the drawings Lopez had rendered years earlier.

Hot pants, chain belts, hip huggers, jogging clothes and oversize jewelry were said to have been inspired by his work.

With Juan Ramos, another Fashion Institute contemporary, Lopez formed a partnership, and their design studio quickly came to be a major influence on the fashion scene.

Lopez thought of himself as "an artist who works with fashion as an art form." But occasionally, as with his 1985 book, "Antonio's Tales From the Thousand and One Nights," he provided flamboyant clothing and ornaments for ancient stories unrelated to the fashion world.

He also was the author of "Antonio's Girls," a compendium of the women who posed for and inspired him over the years.

More recently, his drawings had come to be recognized for their aesthetic as well as their commercial value. He staged workshops at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and his work was exhibited at Otis Parsons Art Institute in Los Angeles and other prestigious centers around the country.

And his models came to idealize Lopez as an artist as he had idealized them through his art.

"You're more beautiful after you've met him," Baraz said. "You're Cinderella because he makes you feel you have it in you and he brings it out."

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