Initially dedicating himself to commercial and advertising art, his first foray into fashion came after a commission
to draw shoes for Glamour magazine. Working as a shoe designer for Israel Miller, it was while in the shoe
industry that his “blotted line” technique developed. London-born photographer John Coplans recalled that: “Nobody
drew shoes the way Andy did. He somehow gave each shoe a temperament of its own, a sort of sly, Toulouse-Lautrec
kind of sophistication, but the shape and the style came through accurately.” Like his illustrations, which featured
in exhibitions at the Hugo Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art and Bodley Gallery – all in New York, the ‘50s were a
time when his personal dress underwent its first real development. By wearing loose-fitting blazers, pleated
trousers (probably bought from Brooks Brothers), knit-jumpers and white shirts, accessorized with a bow-tie – it
reflected the preppy style of mid-century America. But with the later addition of long-sleeved Breton striped shirts
and jeans, you can’t help but think it was harnessed to echo Truman Capote’s style; especially after Warhol’s
onslaught of fan letters to the American novelist.
He was obsessed by Truman Capote, but Warhol observed American culture differently to anyone else. “Once you ‘got’
Pop, you could never see a sign again the same way. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same
way again”, said Warhol. Robert Rauschenberg and Jaspar Johns were among the early artists that shaped the Pop art
movement, but when Warhol showed thirty-two canvasses of Campbell’s Soup can portraits at the Ferus Gallery in Los
Angeles in 1962, it not only became a turning point for Warhol’s career, but was the big-bang moment for Pop and
everything that came after.
“Artists aren’t supposed to dress up and I’ll never look right anyway,” Andy Warhol utters in Bob Colacello’s
biographical Holy Terror book. It epitomises the irony of Warhol – as although he wore black rollneck
sweaters, Levi 501 jeans, leather jackets, Cuban-heel boots, thick wraparound sunglasses, and occasionally denim
shirts in those early days of The Factory on 47th street, it did become a uniform. And moreover, this
look was a deliberate act to help cultivate an air of mystery to his persona.
He met Edie Sedgwick in 1965, and held one-man exhibitions in Paris, notably at The Sonnabend Gallery that same year.
As fruitful as the exhibitions were, meeting Sedgwick is arguably ‘the’ pivotal moment of Warhol’s career as she
became the avatar of his desires. At times his silver wig was the only similarity to her metallic outfits, yet there
were occasions when the both of them presented themselves in the style of the latter stages of Beatnik subculture.
Wearing their signature Breton-striped T-shirts, it was a calculated move from Warhol to implement some of the
sartorial inclinations of the Beat movement into The Factory. And with his tailored jacket and jeans look; it fitted
right in with the notion of going from uptown dinner party to a downtown loft debauch. Whilst the aesthetical
appearances of the duo played its part in supporting Warhol’s prophecy, Sedgwick was also the perfect buttress for
“I have nothing to say – read my books”, Warhol’s standard riposte to most would-be interviewers. For a time on chat
shows when Warhol was asked a question, he would only whisper the answer in Sedgwick’s ear to deliver to the host.
Despite Warhol and Sedgwick falling out, the latter tragically dying of an overdose aged 28, those years not only
helped cement Warhol’s ability to popularize the use of art as a reflection of society (in America’s case
consumerism and superficiality), but in fashion terms it left an extraordinary legacy, that high fashion houses
consistently try to play on.
At the turn of the ‘70s only really the jeans and Chelsea boots remained from his signature look. “I want to die with
my jeans on”, said Warhol. Perhaps this sentiment was the result of him being nearly fatally shot by radical
feminist Valerie Solanas in the Factory in 1968. With the decade of nightclubbing in its height, notably Studio 54
from April 1977 to February 1980, it was jeans, either a white or wide-striped shirt, dark blazer, and tie or
bow-tie that defined his look. Co-founder of Studio 54 Ian Schrager once said about his club: "If Mick Jagger came
to your club, that was all you needed. Or Andy Warhol. When Andy Warhol went to a club, it was like the Good
Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Unlike Capote, who Warhol still took to Studio 54, the latter had been able to
maintain those golden friendships with the glitterati of the time: Bianca Jagger, Halston, Jack Nicholson, Liza
Minnelli to name a few – and it suited Warhol as it was the place for him to round up rich patrons for portrait
The 1980s was a sort of re-emergence for Warhol in terms of critical and financial success. His affiliation with
prolific younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat increased his credibility. But even during the decade defined
by kitsch and maximalist garments, his largely achromatic uniform remained. He spent chunks of his time at Mr Chow
restaurant. Warhol held court at a long table, several times a week, “not eating”, said Michael, “just pushing his
food around” He lived in trainers or Chelsea boots with a Cuban-heel, and even donned more subdued safari jackets.
Yet according to Bob Colacello in his later days, when in the company of rich ladies’ he liked to unbutton his shirt
to halfway to reveal his opulent diamond necklaces.
His work was hallmarked by a virtuoso of colour, but as part of his plan to create his persona, he maintained the use
of darker tones. “A good plain look is my favourite look. If I didn’t want to look so ‘bad,’ I would want to look
‘plain’, said Warhol in The philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), 1975. It summed up his
stylistic strategy perfectly, yet with it he was able to never leave fashion.
Gianni Versace’s 1991 Pop art collection featuring a jewel-encrusted version of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe prints truly
made the artist synonymous with high fashion. And then there’s Diane von Furstenberg’s 2014 ‘Pop Wrap’ anniversary
collection, or pretty much anything Jeremy Scott designs for Moschino. In May, Warhol’s silkscreen image known as
“Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” is expected to sell for around $200m (£151m), according to auction house Christie's. It
will make it the most expensive 20th century work of all-time, which is a measure of Warhol’s all-round
creative influence and brilliance.