• Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.
  • Image courtesy of Alvaro.


Not many of us have the chance to meet our idols, but Alvaro, a renowned painter and illustrator, was fortunate enough to work side by side with his. Meeting famed fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez as a young student at FIT was just the opportunity Alvaro needed to make a good first impression. After garnering the attention of his hero, Alvaro started a mentorship which would lead to a friendship that would change his life. Alvaro’s immense talent has enabled him to work with many famous celebrities, fashion magazines and brands creating illustrations and one-of-a-kind works of art. His work has always been inspired by the glamour of Hollywood and the addictive powers of pop culture—early pleasures of his as a child. Alvaro shared with us some of his favorite memories with Antonio, details of his friendship with Oribe and the exciting projects he’s currently working on.

What got you interested in fashion illustration?

Hollywood. My father was a film cutter in the ’60s, and my mom used to work in an art factory. My father was also a painter and singer. He would bring home classic films and put them on the wall with his rickety old film projector, and we would all sit and watch old movies. I just became inspired. My mother told me I was drawing at age two.

When did you decide to become an illustrator?

When I was in high school (1978-1982), I was already aware of Antonio Lopez. I always saw his work in magazines. I didn’t necessarily want to be a fashion illustrator; I just wanted to draw women. I was very inspired by Alberto Vargas pinup girls. I was interested in the women wearing the clothes, the glamour, the faces, the actresses and how they wore the fashion. We had to decide in tenth grade what our main subject was going to be. I didn’t want to be a designer, but I liked drawing. A teacher of mine told me “Alvaro, what you want to do is fashion illustration,” so I went in that direction.

What inspires your work?

The women of Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Gone with the Wind are some of my favorite references.

How did you meet Antonio Lopez?

I met Antonio at FIT. I was originally going to go to college in Florida, but I went and tried out for FIT knowing that Antonio was going to be there in a year to speak to the students. So I went, and I sat in the second row with my sister and two model friends of mine. I kept saying to myself, “I have to get his attention.” I ended up asking a bunch of questions during the lecture so that he would notice me. I got to meet him afterwards, and he told me he wanted me to model for him. I knew Antonio liked good looking Hispanic boys (and I looked really good at that time). I had to work with him, but I was never involved with him. There was a level of respect from the beginning. That’s how the mentoring started.

Do you have any anecdotes of your time working with Antonio?

I remember when he introduced me to Andy Warhol. I was constantly tagging around Antonio, and I always had my little sketch pad with me. We ran into Andy, and Antonio told him to look at my sketches. I was very afraid of Andy with the wig and the way he looked. But Antonio insisted that I show him my sketches. I gave my sketch pad to Andy, and he quickly looked at it and said, “Oh gee, you’re fab.” All I could do was stare at him. Hearing those words, my heart fell in my chest. As Antonio and I walked away, he looked at me and said:
Antonio: What is wrong with you now?
Alvaro: He called me fab.
Antonio: What’s wrong with fab?
Alvaro: He called me detergent, like I was washed up or something.
Antonio: No stupid, fab is short for fabulous! What am I going to do with you?!
I was still young…all I knew was that I grew up with Fab and Cheer detergent. It was so embarrassing! It always upset Antonio about me that I was always saying the wrong thing.

What is the most valuable thing you learned from Antonio as his protégé?

It had nothing to do with drawing. He taught me to value respect and loyalty…how it’s important to keep friends from your past and always have the right people around. I would call Antonio “Dad” and “Pop.” It was more about the personal relationship between us. I remember when he was passing away, I visited him and we had a conversation. He never really spoke to me about what he was going through; he was hiding from it. He made me promise that I was going to continue with whatever I was doing.

I can say that I appreciate the fact that I met Grace Jones, Iman, Cookie Smith and many very fabulous women while I was with Antonio. I would always stand behind Antonio while he drew. Sometimes he couldn’t get a model, and he would call me on Saturday to come in and sit for him. I was always a bad kid, and he was always trying to straighten me up. On the weekends, I would come into his studio and he would guide my hand on the paper. There are so many great stories.

What do you admire or appreciate about Antonio’s work?

His photography was good, but it was about watching him paint. It was magic, like being in The Wizard of Oz. It was like seeing a director create from black and white into color. His watercolors, his silhouettes, the women and the balance of his creations were all incredible. To see his illustrations come to life in minutes…it was like watching Bob Fosse dance.

What is your favorite drawing of Antonio’s?

All of them. I do really love the very last drawings that he did in Italy—just because they were his last. Those were his best works. He was growing as a painter and mixing in illustrations. You could tell the difference between his early work and the later stuff. I loved his YSL work and anything in Vogue. The magic behind Antonio’s work was that it moved—in three lines or four lines, they jumped off the page.

How did you become friends with Oribe?

I met Oribe through the models. I believe it was through Naomi Campbell at her birthday party. The next time I saw him was at a shoot Steven Meisel was doing for Interview magazine: “People of the Future.” It included Christy Turlington, Anna Sui, Eagle Eye Cherry and a couple of other people. Steven was shooting away, and then he said that we needed to stop to fix my hair. Oribe walked onto the set and, as he was coming towards me, all I could think was, “Ok, God is going to touch me.” I used to hang out at the Elizabeth Arden salon with Oribe. It was so glamorous. We would hang around the salon with the models; it was like a family thing.

What can you tell us about working with Oribe?

The great thing about Oribe is he let me fly. He didn’t have me caged. He would say what his idea was and let me go with it. He’s not just a great hairstylist, he’s a great visionary. He is—to me—the Elvis Presley and the Picasso of all hairstylists. He’s so gorgeous and kind to everyone. He inspires me. No other man since Antonio has inspired me like Oribe. You feel like you belong when you’re around him. The energy that Oribe gives out…it spreads all over.

What current projects are you working on?

I’ve been working on some paintings. I’ve really grown as an artist. I don’t really do fashion illustrations any more. Right now, I’m doing these portraits of famous painters. They’re surrealistic paintings, personal works of how we see these painters.

I used to do a lot of portraits of women and socialites. In the past, I’ve worked with Mariah Carey. I also do a lot of work with Iman—she has become a sister to me. Of all the models, she is the only supermodel that I met through Antonio. I came in at the right time when the girls were first coming out, when supermodels were coming to life. We would just hang out and sketch and talk. I made some really good friends throughout those years, and I took that loyalty thing that Antonio taught with me.

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