Antonio Lopez, a Puerto Rican-born, Bronx-raised fashion illustrator, was one of the most influential creative forces in the fashion industry from the beginning of the 1970s until his premature death from complications of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 44. He was commissioned by publications such as Women’s Wear Daily, worked on advertisement campaigns for designers including Oscar de la Renta and Karl Lagerfeld, and discovered some of fashion’s most iconic models: Jerry Hall, Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland, and Jessica Lange, who were affectionately known as, “Antonio’s Girls.” His unapologetically bold and colorful aesthetic, coupled with his glamorously opulent lifestyle embodied the zeitgeist of the 1980s.
AIDS, the collection of symptoms caused by the HIV virus, ravaged the population of gay men during the 1980s and then extended into the heterosexual population. Until 1984 the disease was unidentified and untreatable, horrifying all who saw its heartbreaking effects: it was the leading cause of death in men between twenty-five and forty-four years old in New York City. The AIDS epidemic had a significant effect on the fashion industry, ultimately killing many of its most creative, prominent and supporting members, devastating their staffs, friends, and consumers. Terrified by the general lack of medical knowledge and the stigma attached to AIDS as a “gay man’s disease,” the fashion industry remained silent on the issue for several years. Today, however, the industry has become a leading advocate for educational and prevention programs for people at high risk for or living with AIDS.