Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Other Artists Who Got Their Start In Fashion

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am) (1987).
Photo: Mary Boone.

The worlds of art and fashion are increasingly intertwined. In recent years, high-profile artist and fashion collaborations have included Louis Vuitton’s wide-ranging partnership with Yayoi Kusama and Hedi Slimane’s reinterpretation of Baldessari prints (see Will Art Fill the Runway at New York Fashion Week?) to name just two. But famous artists who have shaped contemporary art, and others who are still on the rise, frequently get their start as graphic designers for fashion magazines, models, or clothing designers before they first start drawing art world attention. Thanks to Complex, we got a closer look at some of these transformations.

Before becoming a pioneer of Pop art, Andy Warhol began his career as a low level illustrator in the 1950s at Harper’s Bazaar. The artist was sketching items of clothing, but what he was most interested in were the commercial products found in the glossy mag. Warhol, always the consummate “business artist,” continued to do work for the magazine, even when his art world fame was hitting new heights.

Jean-Michel Basquait shirts. Photo: Complex.

Jean-Michel Basquait shirts.
Photo: Complex.

Independent since high school, Jean-Michel Basquiat stayed with friends in Brooklyn, establishing himself on the New York City graffiti scene, and creating hand-painted t-shirts that he sold to make ends meet. The artist’s neo-Expressionist paintings now command up to tens of millions of dollars at auction.

Helmut Lang’s eponymous brand, which he founded as a made-to-measure studio in 1977, was ingrained into every fashion insider’s brain by the time he sold it in 2004 to pursue his true passion, sculpting. Acclaimed for his minimalist and deconstructivist designs, Lang recently had a solo exhibition at Sperone Westwater, where he shredded around 6,000 garments from his personal archives and turned them into, red, black, and yellow towering pillars (see Helmut Lang Sheds (and Shreds) His Former Identity).

Lucien Smith in a Supreme look book. Photo: Complex.

Lucien Smith in a Supreme look book.
Photo: Complex.

Lucien Smith, the youngest artist on this list (and arguably still emerging), has garnered much attention for his abstract paintings (which can fetch up to six figures at auction). The Cooper Union graduate, who struck up friendships with street wear gurus, Aaron Bondaroff, Jeff Staple, and James Jebbia of Supreme, had been featured in Supreme‘s lookbooks as well as staging art exhibits in their stores before the art world took notice. The cult street wear brand is known for creating much-buzzed about limited-edition items (including Basquiat sweatshirts) which can produce waiting lines that wrap around the block.

Barbara Kruger began her career working as a graphic designer and print editor for various magazines including Mademoiselle magazine and titles at Condé Nast before she became an art world star. Her work, which frequently comments on gender and cultural norms, combines text and imagery. The logo of street wear brand Supreme (mentioned above) has obviously been influenced by Kruger’s iconic use of red and white in her art works.

Other noted fashion starters turned artists include Erik Brunetti, Kenzo Takada, and Malcolm McLaren.


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