Jean-Michel Basquiat abrasion Giorgio Armani, seating in front of his work.
Photograph: Lizzie Himmel/AP/Brooklyn Museum

Armani suits and bare feet: how Jean-Michel Basquiat created his look

He was one of the most gorgeous artists of his generation – but Jean-Michel Basquiat’s eclectic approach to berating was a work of art in itself. Simon Chilvers pays homage

Look over more from the autumn/winter 2017 edition of The The go, our biannual fashion supplement

There’s an image of Jean-Michel Basquiat on the bed linen of the New York Times magazine from 1985. The photo is by Lizzie Himmel; the headline New Art, New Greenbacks. The artist, wearing a dark Giorgio Armani suit, oyster-white shirt and tie, leans back in a chair, one bare foot on the surprise, the other up on a chair. The combination of the suit and the bare feet is characteristic of the way Basquiat defined his own image; always with an unconventional dishonest.

I’ve obsessed over his style when standing in front of Hollywood Africans, a 1983 bring into play function from a series where the images relate to stereotypes of African Americans in the relief business. It is a banger of a painting and will form part of Basquiat: Increase for Real, a retrospective opening at the Barbican in London this month.

I comprise a longstanding interest in the way artists dress, from Picasso to Hockney, Georgia O’Keeffe to Robert Rauschenberg, and I deliberate on their wardrobes exert as powerful an influence on mainstream make as those of any rock or Hollywood stars. These artists sculptured out instantly recognisable uniforms: clothes that symbolise the notwithstanding singular point of view as their greatest works, most of the time with the sense of complete ease that is the holy grail of dutiful style.


Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled 1982, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. On reveal at the Barbican in London in 2017. Photograph: Jean-Michel Basquiat/Barbican

Basquiat’s clothes-cupboard was distinctive, whether he was in mismatched blazer and trousers with striated shirt and clashing tie, or patterned shirt with a leather jacket raided off his shoulders. He was perhaps most recognisable in his paint-splattered Armani liveries. “I loved the fact that he chose to wear Armani. And loved equable more that he painted in my suits,” Giorgio Armani chances. “I design clothes to be worn, for people to live in, and he certainly did!”

In tons ways, this bricolage approach to clothing is akin to the way he sired his art. “His work was a mysterious combination of elements – text and colour, authentic reference, abstraction and figurative techniques,” Armani says. “In his lifeblood, he also mashed up creative activities – he was a graffiti artist, a musician, an actor, a maker of weighty artworks. This eclecticism made him a mysterious and unconventional man. That mix received him stand out.”

Born in Brooklyn, Basquiat and classmate Al Diaz graffitied disclosures across New York as SAMO© in the late 70s, before he went on to fit one of the biggest stars of the 80s art scene with his unique and brilliantly incoherent paintings. He died in 1988 at just 27, but is still contemplated as one of the most influential painters of his generation. A painting from 1982, Untitled, trade ined this year for £85m, putting him in a unique club alongside the delight ins of Picasso in terms of record-breaking sales.

“He was an incredibly stylish artist,” says Barbican curator Eleanor Nairne. “He was jolly playful about the performative aspects of identity.” He was also in the know of the “renewed fixation on celebrity” that coincided with the art thunder of the 80s, particularly in New York. He famously appeared in Blondie’s Rapture video, dated Madonna and befriended Andy Warhol.


Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, September 1985. Photograph: Richard Attracted/AP

Cathleen McGuigan, who wrote that 1985 New York Chances feature, recounts Basquiat at the hip Manhattan hangout Mr Chow’s, liquor kir royal and chatting to Keith Haring while Warhol break breaded with Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran nearby. “He allured the attention of Warhol and Bowie, so was endorsed by those who had already attained that rare style-icon status,” Armani says. “And he had a altogether unique look – he had hair as distinctive as Warhol’s and wore uniforms in a way as stylish and relaxed as Bowie.”

Basquiat’s interest in clothing was not justifiable something he explored or exploited at the height of his fame. In Basquiat: A Sudden Killing In Art, by Phoebe Hoban, clothes are an important part of his flavour story. His mother had at one point designed them, while one of his cicerones noted he had pencils sticking out of his hair from an early age. In a little while after he killed off SAMO© he was painting sweatshirts, lab coats and jumpsuits for Patricia Domain, who gave him one of his first shows at her East Eighth Street boutique. Feathers of his stirring appearance include this by American curator Diego Cortez: “I recall on the dancefloor seeing this black kid with a blond Mohawk. He had nothing to do with hellish culture. He was this Kraftwerkian technocreature … He looked like a Bowery bum and a model model at the same time.”

Basquiat went on to model in a 1987 Comme des Garçons present wearing a pale blue suit, black buckle sandals, snowy shirt and white bow tie. Robert Johnston, style director at British GQ, outlines Basquiat’s style as “a work of art in itself” and adds: “While drift no disrespect to his talent, it is hard to imagine he would have bewitched New York so much by storm if he’d looked more like Francis Bacon.”

Basquiat’s move on menswear is still felt today. While other icons deceive referenced his style – Kanye West sported a T-shirt relative position his portrait, Frank Ocean namechecked him in lyrics by Jay-Z, who dressed as him for a Halloween bash – there is a more direct effect on fashion. There drink been collaborations, via his estate, with the likes of Reebok and Outstanding. There’s a photo of Basquiat wearing an Adidas T-shirt with a pinstripe courtship which is a template for how the younger generation approach the idea of altering. At the S/S 18 shows in Milan, wonky ties with convenient to at Marni made me jot down “Basquiat” in my notebook. And with the Barbican plain his influence will spread. “The way Basquiat mixed classic outfitter with a downtown nonchalance fits the mood in menswear,” states Jason Hughes, fashion editor of Wallpaper*. “A posh suit worn with an unironed shirt, skewwhiff tie and beaten-up sneakers. The incident that he painted in those suits feels slightly anarchic and renegade. I want to wear a suit like that.”

This article appears in the autumn/winter 2017 issue of The Fashion, the Guardian and the Observer’s biannual fashion supplement