Stephen Sprouse (1953-2004) was an incredibly influential and innovative American fashion designer who is best known for his Day-Glo and grafitti-laced apparel, as well as for styling Blondie’s Debbie Harry and for his designs featuring art by his friends Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
In 2018, the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields acquired Stephen Sprouse’s fashion collection and archives. Sprouse was born in Ohio but raised in Columbus, Indiana, so his ties to Indiana were strong, and the return of his collection to the state is fitting and exciting.
Stephen Sprouse: Rock | Art | Fashion presented by Target will feature more than 60 ensembles and shoes designed by Sprouse, and in addition, Andy Warhol’s 1984 double portrait of Sprouse will have its Indianapolis debut. This painting, along with another Warhol portrait, is part of the more than 10,000 pieces that were donated by Sprouse’s mother Joanne Sprouse and his brother Bradford.
We spoke with Niloo Paydar, the Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts for the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, to find out more about how the collection came to Indianapolis and what we can look forward to when the exhibit opens on July 16.
This is such an exciting exhibit, can you explain some about how it came to fruition?
I’m so excited about the Sprouse collection and the exhibition because it’s something that I started working on about ten years ago. In 2012, I organized an exhibition of Indiana fashion designers, which included Norman Norell, who was born in Noblesville, Bill Blass, who was born in Fort Wayne, and Halston. The fourth designer was Stephen Sprouse. However, we didn’t have any pieces by him in our collection. So, I contacted his family and found out that his collection had been stored in a warehouse in New Jersey after he passed away in 2004, when he was only 50.
It occurred to me that we needed to take care of this collection, because first of all, the Indiana connection is important for us since we have many pieces by the other three fashion designers, and have been collecting them since 1972. So, I contacted Stephen’s mother Joanne Sprouse and I said, “I’m organizing this show, and it’s really important to include pieces by Stephen,” and our relationship started then. I also mentioned to her that when the time comes, and she is ready to make a decision, we would love to have her son’s collection at the IMA.
For a while they were thinking about donating the collection to one of New York City’s museums, but in 2018, Joanne said, “Even though some people have been encouraging me to give the collection to a New York City Museum, I want it to go to the IMA.”
Part of the collection arrived in 2018. There were two Andy Warhol paintings that Andy had given to Stephen and one of them will be in the show. Sprouse’s fashion sketches and some of the accessories came at the same time. We have about 5-6000 Polaroids, and they’re stored in our Archives. In 2019, about 1000 clothing items arrived. There were also hundreds of shoes, boots, and jewelry, and all the other good stuff.
Because of COVID-19 the exhibition was postponed a couple of times, and here we are in 2022 and finally, it is all coming together. Our team has been working on this exhibit day and night since last summer, so for all of us, it will be such a joy and celebration when it opens. I’m just so thrilled to be able to finally share this amazing collection with our visitors.
What can people expect when they come to the exhibit?
Well, when we set out to do the exhibit, we wanted to make sure that people understood the Indiana connection; even though Stephen wasn’t born in Indiana he grew up in Columbus. He came to Indianapolis often and visited the IMA.
That connection is important, but also a lot of people are not very familiar with his work. So, I really want our visitors to have an appreciation of his talent, his cutting-edge designs, and the fact that he was just so ahead of his time.
For the exhibit, we wanted to create a sort of a club environment, because a lot of what Stephen designed was worn in the nightclubs. So, we’re using a lot of neon colors, Day-Glo colors, but most of all, when people come into the gallery, we want them to have an experience, and be amazed by his work. We also want our visitors to learn more about his groundbreaking designs, the progression, and see some of the pieces that haven’t been seen since they debuted on the runways in the late 1990s.
Do you have any particular pieces that are favorites of yours?
There are a lot of amazing pieces. There’s a blue dress that is based on one of Warhol’s oxidization paintings; it’s just an absolutely beautiful saturated blue color that I love. There are a lot of great pieces in the show.
What was one of the trickier parts of putting the show together?
The conservation of the pieces has been challenging. The plastics have been particularly challenging since they are deteriorating fast. Because everything was stored in boxes for 15 years, they were creased, and some even were damaged. I know there were a few Warhol camouflage pieces that had to be destroyed because they got wet and moldy. We have to be very careful exhibiting the Day-Glo pieces, since exposing them too much to the light would affect the intensity of their glow in the future.
Do you think that you will do more exhibits in the future now that you have this amazing collection?
Yes, my hope is that this is not a one-shot deal. I have already talked to the curator at the Warhol Museum. We were talking about perhaps doing an exhibition of Sprouse’s fashion and Warhol’s paintings next to each other. There are a lot of possibilities in the future, but we just want to get over this first part; we’ve been waiting for it for three years.
Do you think the show will travel in the future?
I think there will be opportunities in the future. You know, if we traveled this show or if we decided to do a smaller, focused exhibition, there’s some interest out there to have it exhibited at other venues in the country. So, I would love to put the show on the road and see how far we can go.
Stephanie Groves is the Executive Editor of Indy Maven and she bought a Sprouse graffiti handbag in 2001 and is excited to break it out again.