NEW YORK — Halloween was his favorite holiday and to Stephen Sprouse, drawing was his favorite sport.
“I first realized Steve’s talent when we were kids and he told me he could draw a star without lifting his pen off the paper,” said Bradford Sprouse, Stephen’s younger brother, also noting his brother’s constant creativity with who can make the best Halloween costume. “I didn’t believe he could do it, but sure enough, he proved me wrong. He drew a perfect, five-point star without lifting his pen. I was impressed.”
Little did he know at the time that the same star he drew as a child would become one of Sprouse’s most recognizable pieces of art — incorporated in so many of his designs.
Model Kate Moss and designer Anna Sui were among the more than 100 family members, friends and fans of the late artist — who died at the age of 50 of heart failure on March 4 — who gathered for a memorial service at Boylan Studios here on Friday evening. Stories of days passed were shared by 10 people who were close to Stephen throughout the course of his life, among them Stephen’s mother, Joanne Sprouse; brother Bradford; niece Ashley and fashion icon Polly Mellen, who worked with Sprouse on several occasions.
“I could go on forever telling stories of Stephen’s life, but today I am here to thank you — his New York family,” addressed Joanne Sprouse, dressed not in all black, but in a neon pink dress, one of Sprouse’s signature colors. She and her family traveled from their home in northern Michigan for the service. “As I sat with Bradford at the kitchen table on March 4, all I could think of was that Stephen was alone in New York, without his family. And then the phone started ringing and it was all of you. I soon realized that Stephen didn’t just have friends in New York, but he had his family. You were his family for 13 years.”
Sprouse certainly made his mark on the art and music worlds and almost by accident, on the fashion industry as well. “I want to make this work, so I can support my videos and music,” he told WWD in February 1984. “I got an electric guitar with my first sequin dress payment.”
Landing an internship with Bill Blass at the age of 14, Sprouse was Halston’s right-hand man by the age of 18. He made a major mark on the design house when the designer let Sprouse cut long dresses into minis right before a fashion show in 1974. By 1983, he opened his own fashion business with a $1.4 million loan from his family. Combining downtown art with uptown chic, Sprouse made quite the impact with his brightly colored, graffiti-printed, Sixties-inspired miniskirts. The next year, he won a CFDA award for “his energy and use of intense color.”
It was a quick run, as he went out of business in 1985.
But that was, by no means, the end of Sprouse’s career. He kept busy by designing album covers, serving as a creative consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. He also gained the rights to use Andy Warhol’s work for apparel, designing a collection for Barneys New York and, in 1997, rejoining New York Fashion Week for a couple of seasons with a signature collection manufactured and distributed by Staff International.
But that was nothing compared to the buzz he started when he partnered with Louis Vuitton in 2000 to create a line of limited-edition handbags in collaboration with Marc Jacobs. In 2002, Target introduced Sprouse-designed wares with an Americana theme — everything from swimsuits to skateboards to dinner napkins — heavy on stars and stripes. As Sprouse said at the launch: “I really like high fashion and mass [merchandise] and in a funny way, they’re similar. You can have a lot of freedom at the expensive level and also at the teenage level because they look good in everything. It’s the middle ground I’m not that interested in.”
— Julee Greenberg