Stephen Sprouse

Elizabeth Kutesko

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA026

Stephen Sprouse (1953–2004) was born in Ohio, USA and attended Rhode Island School of Design for three months in 1972, before dropping out to design stage clothes for rock and roll stars such as Blondie in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. For three years he worked as an apprentice for Halston, Bill Blass, and Norman Norrell, and in 1983 showcased his first collection. Inspired by 1960s fashions, it featured stockings, leotards, and ripped T-shirts in striking hot pink and neon yellow graffiti prints. “The reason I like Day-Glo,” explained Sprouse, “is they’re like the most futuristic kind of colors, you know, because they take on their own kind of life.” Highlights were vivid prints of hand-painted scribbles created in collaboration with New York graffiti artist Keith Haring, which were worn and publicized by Sprouse’s good friend, Debbie Harry, with whom he shared a block of flats in New York’s Bowery. “Revisionist rather than retro,” Caroline Cox has pointed out, “these garments were a witty caricature of the wildest excesses of 1960s fashion.”

In 1985, Sprouse opened a three-tier flagship store of 5,600 sq. ft. (520 sq. m) in a converted Soho firehouse on 99 Wooster Street, in which he promoted three separate lines, each designed with a different audience in mind and with a corresponding price tag. “S” on the first floor was designed for an adolescent audience and featured skinny-leg jeans in denim and leather; T-shirts with safety pins, skulls, and barbwire; and micro-skirts in Day-Glo and camouflage patterns. “Post-Punk Dress for Success” on the second floor was tailored toward the more conventional tastes of career women and included gray flannel suits, Mao-style jackets and dresses, and schoolgirl sweaters. “Stephen Sprouse” on the third floor displayed high-end couture dresses covered with gold safety pins, cashmere sweaters, and suits with sequined lapels.

Although unconventional and exciting, Sprouse’s subcultural, rock-inspired designs have not always proven a commercial success, and he found himself out of business from 1985 to 1987, and again from 1988 to 1992. He shifted his design focus from clothes to accessories in 2001, collaborating with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton and producing a rebellious, “postmodern” interpretation of the French luggage company’s traditional logo bags, fabrics, and prints. Emblazoning fluorescent graffiti print over the brand’s monogram canvas was, as Alistair O’Neill explains, “an ironic act of defilement” which paradoxically sought to reinforce the brand’s luxury status while associating it with street credibility.

Stephen Sprouse, F/W 1984. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library ““Fashion: A Bite of the Apple”.” The Independent , 17 January 1998 .

Find in Library Goodman Wendy. ““Stephen Sprouse Tries a Comeback with a Bold New Store”.” New York , 21 September 1987 .

Find in Library Padhila Roger, and Mauricio Padhila. Stephen Sprouse . New York : Rizzoli, 2009.

Find in Library Spindler M. ““Rock-and-Roll’s Designer-Curator”.” The New York Times , 9 May 1995 .

Find in Library ““Sprouse on Stint at Louis Vuitton with Marc Jacobs”.” Women’s Wear Daily , 28 July 2000 .

Find in Library ““Sprouse in the House”.” Women’s Wear Daily , 11 October 2000 .

Find in Library White C. R. ““Licensing Deal for Sprouse”.” The New York Times , 24 June 1997 .

Find in Library White C. R. ““Sprouse’s American Hurrah”.” The New York Times , 4 November 1997 .