Stephen Sprouse, Iggy on the Cross, Courtesy Sprouse Family Archives.

Steven Sprouse and the Multiple Rebirthing of Punk Fashion

Deitch Projects
18 Wooster Street
New York
Stephen Sprouse
Rock on Mars

January 9-February 28, 2009

Stephen Sprouse (b. 1953 Dayton, Ohio-d. 2004, New York, New York) was one of the most influential fashion designers of his time and a key figure in the dynamic mix of punk rock, wild style graffiti, and street influenced fashion that characterized the downtown New York community in the early 1980s. He was one of the first to build on the influence of Andy Warhol to create a fusion of art, music and fashion. He continued on a course that disavowed any division among these fields throughout his career.

The exhibition will introduce Sprouse’s extraordinary pop-influenced paintings to the larger art audience. His paintings of iconic rock and roll imagery including stacks of loudspeakers, Sid Vicious with his pants down, and an Iggy Pop crucifixion, have rarely been seen. The show will also include a selection of the video works made to accompany his runway shows, examples of his fabric and furniture design for Knoll, and 50 of his most influential fashion looks.

In conjunction with the exhibition project, Marc Jacobs has created a new collection for Louis Vuitton, inspired by Sprouse’s famous collaboration with Louis Vuitton in 2001, which featured the classic monogram bag scrawled with Stephen Sprouse graffiti. The new limited edition Stephen Sprouse – Louis Vuitton collection will be available in Louis Vuitton stores worldwide from January 9, 2009, the opening date of the exhibition.

Sprouse is credited with pioneering the 1980s mix of "uptown sophistication in clothing with a downtown punk and pop sensibility".

Sprouse's initial Day-Glo bright, sixties-inspired, graffiti-printed fashion collections for men and women wowed fashion editors, store buyers, and fashionistas alike, but he always had mixed business success. His initial collections (1983-1985) were huge critical hits, sold at only the best stores (his 1983 collections were sold exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel in New York City on a small scale). To much surprise in the fashion and retail communities, Sprouse declared bankruptcy in June 1985 (even though his base of influential fashion editors and high-end stores were firmly in place). Sprouse cited production, late deliveries to stores, management and financial problems in an interview with Womens Wear Daily shortly after he closed his initial business.

He informally showed a Fall 1985 collection to buyers and the press at his new showroom in Union Square on Broadway — the last location of Andy Warhol's infamous "Factory" lofts. A runway presentation at Club USA in NYC was initially planned (and largely promoted) for its grand opening. Subsequently, the show was cancelled; a Stephen Sprouse Incorporated representative stated at the time that the show was canceled due to the company relocating to the new Union Square location.

Sprouse referred to his Fall 1985 collection as being "more hippie weird" and seventies-inspired, with bell-bottom trousers, psychedelic prints, and maxi skirts, but lacked the funds and staff to produce the apparel.

Sprouse was initially noted for using high-quality, expensive, custom-dyed/screen-printed fabrics (his woolens were sourced by the high-end Italian textile house Agnona) for his earliest collections. Sprouse personally did the graffiti that adorned many of his very earliest garments (1983, early 1984).

In September 1987, with financial backing from high-end furniture manufacturer Knoll International (then known as GFI/General Felt Industries), Sprouse opened a three-level store on Wooster Street in New York City; a second, much smaller store was opened in Los Angeles in the spring of 1988 in the Beverly Center shopping complex. He partly abandoned his signature sixties silhouettes, instead drawing inspiration from the mid-70s London-based Punk rock scene. For his Fall 1987 and Spring 1988 collections, he was given permission to use the (recently deceased) Andy Warhol's "Camouflage" series of screen-prints to utilize as textile designs; for his Fall 1988 "Signature" collection, he collaborated with artist Keith Haring to create several abstract prints of Jesus with graffiti. His company, CSI ({Andrew} Cogan Sprouse Incorporated) also wholesaled the various collections ("Stephen Sprouse," "Sprouse," and "S") to retailers (commencing with his Spring 1988 collection), but he lost his financial backing due to production problems and poor sales, closing down again in December 1988, shortly after the company shipped their "Holiday" and "Resort" lines.

In 1992, Sprouse designed an exclusive men's and women's "capsule collection" (32 pieces in all) for Bergdorf Goodman, called "CyberPunk" that featured Velcro in lieu of traditional buttons. Sprouse (again) largely sourced custom made textiles from Agnona for his fall 1992 collection. The production of the collection was done entirely on a couture level, leading to extremely high-priced garments (e.g.: $500 for a pair of men's nylon underwear — that being one of the lowest priced items available). Bergdorf Goodman sold the line for two seasons (Fall 1992 & Spring 1993), with limited success, despite wide media coverage, and featuring Sprouse's garments in their window displays.

Sprouse showed a collection ("CyberGlitter") at Club USA in NYC for Fall 1993, but it never went into full production, despite orders being placed. In 1995, Barneys New York handled the production of an exclusive women's spring / summer line. Vogue featured the moderately priced garments in its pages, but it sold poorly. That same year, Sprouse also served as the costume curator for the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and designed the staff's uniforms. In 1998, with full production and backing from Italian manufacturer Staff International, he was briefly back in business, but the clothes sold poorly and were largely ignored by the fashion press and retailers that adored him in the 1980s.

Despite such ups and downs, Sprouse's apparel is still coveted — his clothing continues to fetch high prices in vintage stores and online (e.g.: eBay) for his most iconic pieces.

The graffiti logo bags he designed in collaboration with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton in 2001 made the fashion world take notice once again. The pieces sold-out instantly. In 2002, he created a vast collection of men's and women's apparel, home accessories, sports gear, etc. for the Target discount chain (dubbed "AmericaLand") - mostly rendered in a graffiti patriotic motif.

For Fall 2006, Marc Jacobs utilized Sprouse's 1987 graffiti leopard images for handbags, shoes, and scarves for Louis Vuitton, which sold-out instantly.

Sprouse designed clothes for Blondie's Debbie Harry (his one-time downstairs neighbor in the Bowery section of NYC) in the late 1970s / early 1980s, prior to becoming a commercial designer. Sprouse worked extensively with the band Duran Duran in the late 80s, designing the clothes for their 1989 tour for the album Big Thing, as well as the cover for their greatest hits album Decade: Greatest Hits of the same year. Additionally, he styled and dressed Billy Idol in the early 90s for Idol's "comeback" (which garnered little interest).

Sprouse launched himself as a commercial fashion designer when he competed in a fashion show contest of young designers in the spring of 1983 (at the suggestion of photographer and friend Steven Meisel), sponsored by the Polaroid Corporation (he previously worked as a design assistant to Halston in the 1970s for three years). Based upon the favorable editorial reaction he received, he soon after formed his first company, Stephen Sprouse, Inc., and set up a showroom and production space at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, launching his initial commercial collections for retail (prior to this, production of his early 1983 collections, done on a relatively small scale, was manufactured by Dianne Phelp's company "Triad").

Sprouse soon formed an in-house production staff for the small runway collection he showed in his silver-painted showroom (in homage to the Andy Warhol Factory loft of the sixties) in December 1983. The show garnered much attention and very favorable reviews (notably from the New York Times Fashion Editor John Duka). Sprouse's subsequent runway show, held at the NYC club The Ritz in May 2004 was the "must see" show of the season. Financial backing was provided by his parents, Norbert and Joanne Sprouse, for Sprouse's initial business.

Sprouse died at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City of heart failure, after a closely guarded diagnosis of lung cancer a year before. He was 50.


From left, Stephen Sprouse, Debbie Harry Cut Out Dress Polaroid, Courtesy Sprouse Family Archives. Stephen Sprouse, Debbie Harry Green Dress Polaroid, Courtesy Sprouse Family Archives.

From left, Stephen Sprouse, Patty Hearst Painting, Courtesy Sprouse Family Archives. Stephen Sprouse, Self-Portrait, Early Years, Courtesy Sprouse Family Archives.

From left, Stephen Sprouse, TV Sketch, Courtesy Sprouse Family Archives. Stephen Sprouse, Scan Line Sketch, Courtesy Sprouse Family Archives.

Stephen Sprouse

Stephen Sprouse

Stephen Sprouse

Stephen Sprouse

Stephen Sprouse, Fall 1984 Sketch, Courtesy Sprouse Family Archives.

Stephen Sprouse-inspired design by Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton.