Why Basquiat Wore Suits While He Painted

When Christie’s came to catalog Basquiat’s possessions after his untimely death in 1988, they found sketchbooks, paintings, prints and obscure antiques - and a closet jam-pack full of Giorgio Armani and Issey Miyake suits.

Much like his peer Keith Haring, Basquiat’s legacy in fashion since has been obscured by masses of merchandised art. However, where the former’s style was Air Jordans and bright graphic t-shirts, Basquiat’s style was distinctive in its subtle class.

While Basquiat’s artistic work pioneered street art into the high art world, his style was a blend of high-and-low, mixing designer suits with thrifted purchases. His suits would be splattered with paint as he dashed around his studio barefoot, carrying him into the booming New York clubs at night time. He embraced the wear and tear of clothing, often giving interviews in trashed tailoring.

“I loved the fact that he chose to wear Armani. And loved even more that he painted in my suits. I design clothes to be worn, for people to live in, and he certainly did!” - Giorgio Armani

Basquiat’s style reflected his complex position in the art world. Partly through donning the European designer uniform of the white art world, he was increasingly seen as equivalent to his white peers, as opposed to being grouped with the likes of Bob Thompson. As he stated, “I am not a black artist, I’m an artist”. It was expressive of a man who could buy whatever he liked, but couldn’t get a cab back from the boutique.

Alongside his clothing, Basquiat would often sport sunglasses - initially Wayfarers, but later geometric Issey Miyake pairs. His hair is still highly influential, ever-changing as he shaved off and sculpted portions into bald patches and Mohawks.

Basquiat’s connections with the fashion world go back to the beginning of his career - his first exhibition was held in designer Patricia Field’s store, and he walked in Comme Des Garcons 1987 show. He even once dabbled in a clothing collection, scrawling ‘Man-Made’ in paint on sweaters. However, as much as he was accepted by some, his girlfriend recalled him being followed around stores and even rejected at the door.

Words by Fintan Fox.

All images Basquiat.