"We were all very sad to hear that Stephen Sprouse had died. He was a true innovator and rare artist who's talent had few boundaries. We first met Stephen in the early 1980's in NYC. Aside from becoming a great friend of ours, we were fortunate enough to be able to collaborate with Stephen on several Duran Duran projects. He designed the clothes for our 1989 tour, created the artwork and visual campaign for the Decade album and Burning The Ground single and also painted the giant canvases used in the Duran Duran Unplugged show. The results of his work were always stunning and truly unique. He created a distinctive style that will forever be attributed to him. We will miss him greatly."
Nick Rhodes on behalf of Duran Duran
Stephen Sprouse, Design Pioneer, Dies at 50
March 5, 2004
By WILLIAM NORWICH
Stephen Sprouse, the American fashion designer and artist
who in the early 1980's pioneered that decade's
revolutionary idea of mixing uptown sophistication in
clothing with a downtown punk and pop sensibility, died
yesterday morning at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.
He was 50.
The cause was heart failure, said his mother, Joanne
Sprouse. She said that lung cancer had been diagnosed about
a year ago, but Mr. Sprouse had kept the condition private
while continuing to work.
When Mr. Sprouse's approach came into vogue, New York's
uptown and downtown worlds, certainly in terms of the
city's fashion and society tastes, were divided as if by an
invisible Mason-Dixon line: 14th Street.
"Stephen's style was a sort of punk couture," said Simon
Doonan, the creative director of Barneys New York. "Europe
had Jean-Paul Gaultier, but American fashion had no one
like that until Stephen exploded on the scene in a blaze of
pop art fluorescence. He opened his store in SoHo when it
was considered a dangerous, edgy place. As people uptown
began to discover Stephen, they discovered SoHo and it
became a fashion destination."
Mr. Sprouse's own punkish look of a sort of deluxe
dishevelment - he served guests his famous Bloody Marys in
measuring cups and his address book consisted of writing
phone numbers on his arms with his ever-handy felt marker -
inspired its own following among the poetically
fashion-inclined. His early statement as a designer came in
a declaration of new clothes that were perfect for a rock
star with a secret penchant for good schools and Park
There were Day-Glo colors, all-black palettes, mirrored
sequins, high-tech fabrics and Velcro attachments long
before Velcro was a discount fixative, always rendered with
the finest tailoring. His hand-painted silk tunics with
long skirts covered in transparent sequins sold then for
"There was nothing ragamuffin, ever, about Stephen; he used
Norman Norell's tailor," like so many of the American
fashion greats, said Candy Pratts Price, the director of
Style.com and a longtime friend of Mr. Sprouse's. "His
father took him to New York when he a kid and introduced
him to Blass," Ms. Price said.
Actually, Mr. Sprouse was born in Ohio. His family moved to
Indiana, where Mr. Sprouse started designing clothes when
he was 9.
"My father, who was in the Air Force, thought my designing
was great," Mr. Sprouse told John Duka, reporting in The
New York Times in 1983.
"When I was 12 he took me to New York to meet Bill Blass,
Geoffrey Beene and Norman Norell. Blass said I could work
for him when I got older."
By the time he was 14, Mr. Sprouse was sketching for Blass
in the summer. At 18, he attended the Rhode Island School
of Design, but stayed for three months. A friend introduced
him to Halston.
After three years of working for the designer, Mr. Sprouse
left New York, returned in 1974, and photographed rock
groups. In 1975, he moved to the Bowery and started
designing clothes for Debbie Harry of the rock group
With a loan from his family, Mr. Sprouse opened his
business in 1983. Although he was always a creative
success, business success on the global level never quite
came despite the various associations Mr. Sprouse entered
into over the years.
"But Stephen's attitude was, well, he didn't care," said a
close friend, Nuala Boylan, an art dealer. "If they liked
it, great. If they didn't, just never mind."
Most recently, in addition to creating signature graffiti
bags for Louis Vuitton, as well as projects for Diesel
jeans and fabric for Knoll International, Mr. Sprouse was
devoting his time to painting, mostly portraits, Ms. Boylan
said. He also was the fashion consultant for the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland.
In addition to his mother, who lives in Empire, Mich., Mr.
Sprouse is survived by a brother, Bradford Sprouse of Maple
City, Mich.; a niece; and three nephews.