Stephen Sprouse Fashion

Laura Tolentino

Indiana-born fashion designer Stephen Sprouse‘s vibrant designs were heavily inspired by punk rock and graffiti influences; however, his retail marketplace impact was never as great as that of more celebrated names like Halston. Newspaper reports noted his use of vibrant hues and high-end textiles that were difficult for mass retailers to obtain.

Newfields’s exhibit showcases 60 ensembles, such as a replica of Debbie Harry’s silver dress from her 1979 music video and MTV’s 1996 election education campaign dress featuring polyester and metal button embellishment.

Day-Glo Colors

Stephen Sprouse made waves in fashion during the early ’80s with his subversive downtown look of Day-Glo colors, graffiti prints and mirrored sequins – his subversive downtown look was defined by Day-Glo colors, graffiti prints and mirrored sequins – pushing against convention with his mix of mod, Sixties icons, pseudo-slang (such as “Glab Flack”) that captured America’s burnt-out teenagers. Additionally he toyed with classic youth rebel symbols – such as motorcycle jackets covered in sequins or with graffitied versions of Declarations of Independence; to give his designs freshness and relevance that made them uniquely ’80s.

Sprouse made an indelible mark on fashion despite his brief business career and frequent brushes with bankruptcy. He used his signature marker pens to use graffiti scribbling backwards and forwards across chiffon dresses, leather blazers and neon skirt suits in his early, expensive garments–creating an instantly recognizable pattern that became the hallmark of his design aesthetic. These “squibbles” pushed graffiti beyond logo status into pure instinctive patterning – something not possible with traditional logo design!

Sprouse’s later collections showcased his use of high-tech fabrics like Techno Tweed to craft futuristic sci-fi looks. Additionally, he combined camouflage, graffiti and an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence with silvered colors and plastic sheen – as well as designing patriotic clothing specifically tailored for Target to display his creative chutzpah.

Sprouse combined the worlds of rock music, art, and fashion in his career. He styled Debbie Harry from Blondie while often featuring art by Andy Warhol and Keith Haring on his garments. Although known for his striking appearance–which included head-to-toe black ensembles with nail polish, grungy Dynel wigs, and grungy black Dynel hair –Sprouse was actually quite sweet and shy in person; Paul Cavaco, creative director for Allure magazine and co-founder of MAC cosmetics company described him as being “fantastic executor of simple ideas.”

Graffiti Prints

Sprouse made his mark through an effective blend of high and low culture, as evidenced by his Day-Glo jumpsuits or graffiti-infused formal wear. Influenced by New York City’s rock music and underground culture, he designed stage costumes for Debbie Harry and other musicians while contributing to Interview Magazine run by his friend Andy Warhol.

Sprouse’s debut clothing lines made waves among editors and buyers with their striking neon colors and graffiti-inspired scribbles reminiscent of subway graffiti artists, featuring fluorescent patterns superimposed onto 1960s silhouettes. He even collaborated with Keith Haring in 1983 on producing Day-Glo prints of handpainted subway wall imagery taken directly off its walls – worn by Harry who declared the designer “the best dresser I’ve ever worked with”.

Graffiti was not simply a style for Sprouse; it was part of his daily life. He donned T-shirts decorated with friends’ phone numbers, as well as decorating his clothing with his own graffiti writing backwards and forwards across chiffons and leathers – this allowed him to push beyond traditional language-based understandings of graffiti writing towards creating pure instinctive patterns of writing back and forth across fabrics.

Sprouse adopted graffiti motifs to create an innovative vision of fashion that was free from anachronism and inspired by the energy of 1980s youth and music subcultures. He combined high-fashion materials, like cashmere and alpaca, with low-cost fabrics like denim and canvas in outfits that were both chic and cool.

Sprouse was granted special permission in 1987 to use one of Warhol’s “Camouflage” screen-prints from his collection as textile design in his line of women’s clothing – making history by becoming the first designer ever permitted to do so! Growing up idolizing Warhol, Sprouse wanted his collection to reflect his New York City clubbing experience as best it could.

Sprouse’s fashion career was marred by financial distress; when diagnosed with cancer in 2004 he owed $600,000. By this time his finances had become unstable.

Velcro Attachments

Stephen Sprouse captured the spirit of the eighties with Day-Glo colors, mirrored sequins and Velcro attachments reminiscent of neon signs – his fashion was one of the first American designs to combine graffiti-influenced street style with fashion; one of the first designers in America to combine graffiti art and underground punk aesthetic with fashion design; his unique fashion pushed boundaries and challenged conventional ideas of style; inspiring designers such as John Galliano, Raf Simmons and Marc Jacobs among many more.

Sprouse was one of the few designers combining uptown sophistication with downtown punk and pop sensibilities in his early 1980s shows, which featured both high fashion and street styles such as fatigue green hooded capes with orange linings and long maxi skirts, plus matte sequined evening dresses secured with Velcro for matte sequined evening wear and slim-line tuxedos with Velcro anchors anchored with Velcro closure. His culturally relevant designs were an oasis in an otherwise stagnant fashion industry and society alike. His innovative, culturally relevant designs were an oasis in both industries and society alike.

Born and raised in Indiana, Sprouse began his fashion career working for Halston before moving into a warehouse on Bowery and designing stage clothes for Debbie Harry of rock band Blondie who happened to live below him. Sprouse’s distinct approach bridged an invisible boundary of 14th Street that divided Manhattan into uptown and downtown communities.

Sprouse’s sophomore collection included Velcro as an innovative fastening method on garments such as sleeveless minis and ripped t-shirts, as well as evening wear like Velcro-backed tuxedos and velvet-and-leather jackets; his clothes quickly sold out at Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel stores.

Sprouse’s affinity for assemblage was evident in his fashion collections as well. He would create looks based off one print before recreating them with another – for instance using Andy Warhol’s camouflage print as inspiration, then redesigning a similar jacket using black-and-white photos of birds as his starting point.

Sprouse launched his third and final collection with help from a financial backer in 1987. Two years later he closed his three-level store at 99 Wooster Street (now a Victorinox store) as well as production of clothing after two additional collections were finished. Sprouse ultimately died of lung cancer, keeping its diagnosis private until 2004.


At a time when SoHo and East Village were uncharted territory for fashion establishment, Sprouse brought an underground aesthetic that fused punk, rock ‘n’ roll and Pop Art influences into clothing design. He often met up with fellow creatives such as Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam and Marc Jacobs at clubs like Palladium, Limelight or Red Zone clubs where their aesthetic was present – infusing his designs accordingly.

Newfields’ exhibit features one of Sprouse’s iconic creations — a silk-screened clear mylar dress featuring Andy Warhol double portrait — along with handwritten notes and photos from that period of his work. Although Sprouse faced commercial ups and downs during his fashion design days, his designs continue to fetch high prices at vintage stores even decades after production had stopped.

Sprouse used the Xerox machine as his canvas to paint rock stars and other subjects that would become his signatures, using scan lines from television screens as his canvas for his designs that became his clothing prints. His paintings often took inspiration from rock music videos; one dress designed by him was even worn by Debbie Harry during her No.1 hit “Heart of Glass” video clip! Hence gaining him exposure Halston never could.

Sprouse has long been fascinated with art, yet his career progressed into fashion where his fascination was intensified by an understanding of both avant-garde designs and commercial realities of the fashion industry.

Stephen Sprouse: Rock/Art/Fashion showcases how this fashion designer combined his skills in drawing and painting into clothing that was both cutting edge yet wearable for everyday life. His clothes transcended time — Kim Kardashian recently wore an echo of Carmen Electra’s look from 1998 MTV Movie Awards worn by Stephen Sprouse — as well as space – his designs utilized photographs from NASA Pathfinder mission on Mars as prints for nylon/spandex blouses that featured prints by Stephen himself. For fans of his work, 1stDibs offers authentic Stephen Sprouse fashion from dresses/ suits/ hats/shoes!