Stacey Bendet, founder and creative director of Alice + Olivia, channeled the powerful, provocative, controversial and misunderstood work of the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat for a capsule collection to benefit the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s young talent initiative.
“I like complicated and misunderstood,” said Bendet. “Basquiat was a huge inspiration — both his color palette and his messages. I’ve always been such a fan.”
Bendet’s first CFDA capsule collection in April 2015, celebrated Domingo Zapata, a Spanish-American artist, who has studios in New York, Miami and Hollywood.
“I wanted my next collaboration to be an iconic American artist,” Bendet said. “One of my close friends produced a documentary about Basquiat, ‘Radiant Child.’ That inspired me even more. It also felt like this was the right time to do something Eighties-inspired. I thought, it would be amazing to work with Basquiat and bring his work into today.”
Basquiat, who started as a graffiti artist — Samo was his tag — began painting in 1980. His sketches featured scrawled texts, stick figures, found bits of writing and stream-of-consciousness rants.
The Neo-expressionist artist in 1983 painted black faces with white scribbled notes, a reflection of his feeling somewhat out of place as a black man in a white art world.
The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat “opened his entire archive to us to go through and study,” Bendet said. “It was a really interesting project.”
If Basquiat was alive he might be tickled by the effort. In the late Seventies — before he was discovered — the artist sold painted T-shirts to tourists in Greenwich Village.
“I picked out the ‘works’ that resonated visually,” Bendet said. “We worked off the actual art works. I wanted them to feel 3-D or like they were painted on canvas. For ballgown skirts, I wanted you to feel the whole painting, so we beaded and embroidered parts of the image.”
The ballgown skirt is based on “Notary,” a 1983 painting that references Pluto and Greek mythology. “He spent over a year-and-a-half on that group of works,” Bendet said. “It was of one of his most detailed.”
Bendet used elements of “Panel of Experts,” (1982) on a black slipdress, which features the artist’s ubiquitous three-pointed crown, a duck, volcano, gun and fighting cartoons. The name Madonna, the pop star who was his girlfriend, is crossed out.
A black tote was inspired by “Beat Bop,” a hip-hop single with a record cover designed by Basquiat. Bendet called it “a 10-minute sparring match with other graffiti artists.”
A bowling bag based on “Ascent,” (1983) captures the painting’s bright blue background. “It was one of his periods of using texts from interesting books,” Bendet said.
Also included in the capsule collection is a multicolored striped dress, leather jacket, shoes and jeans, which are inscribed with elements from Basquiat’s notebooks and other works. A sweater has the yellow Basquiat crown. “We did a white button-down shirt because he was always wearing fancy suits with white button-down shirts,” Bendet said.
“We had to have everything approved by them,” she said, referring to the Basquiat estate. “A lot of creativity and thought that went into each piece.”
Several items in the capsule will be exclusive to Alice + Olivia stores and aliceandolivia.com, bowing in November. The collection will also be sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and other specialty stores.
“It was very tragic,” Bendet said of Basquiat’s death. “His time set the stage for the art world today and the importance of fame, it was him and Andy Warhol.”