Welcome back to Vintage Gold, a recurring segment where we here at Esquire HQ collectively lose our shit over some of the best throwback looks in Fit History. Today we're overanalyzing an image of the inimitable Jean-Michel Basquiat (putting on an absolute masterclass in expert-level pattern mixing, naturally). Thanks again for coming by, and be sure to check back in right here on Esquire dot com for the next installment as soon as it's live.
In early 1988, the Brooklyn-born artist Jean-Michel Basquiat traveled to Paris to attend the opening of a solo show of his work. At the time, Basquiat was an ascendant star, his painting style hailed as a savior of sorts for a medium bogged down by the weight of its own (very white) history.
The show marked a victory lap for the young artist, whose particular brand of neo-expressionism—and the stylistic tropes he made his signature—couldn't have been more in-demand. At the same time, the pressure on Basquiat to perform and to produce new work at a constant, almost frenetic clip was formidable, particularly for an artist battling drug addiction.
At the opening, Basquiat showed up in a fit that, like many of his most famous pieces, took inspiration from far-reaching and somewhat surprising sources, casually mixing elements of conventional Trad style with prep-inflected wardrobe staples to excellent effect. None of the components pulled together here should work as well as they do, but in Basquiat's capable hands all of them sing in beautiful harmony. Smiling knowingly in front of a backdrop of his own work, Basquiat is resplendent in a rakishly askew bow-tie in a subtle plaid, tied on over a plain white shirt layered beneath a printed polo sweater and topped off by some sort of blazer hybrid in the collarless style he favored and wore frequently. The double-pleated tartan pants only add to the extremely big "eccentric professor who teaches classics at a small liberal arts college on the East Coast" energy on display here, done in a way that is unmistakably Basquiat's own.
Sadly, the solo show in 1988 was Basquiat's last in Europe; he died of a heroin overdose in his New York City studio later that year. Since his death, the price of his work has skyrocketed in tandem with a historic surge in demand in the contemporary art market. In 2017, a piece he painted in the early '80s sold for well over $100 million at auction, making Basquiat one of a rarified few (and one of even fewer Americans) to consistently command such staggeringly high prices among an increasingly rabid, and growing, fanbase.
Scrolling through the extensive collection of images capturing his many public appearances confirms that the fit he got off here wasn't an anomaly. The man was absurdly stylish. Basquiat's legacy as an era-defining artist and his place in the pantheon of the greats that came before him aside, his style is proof that the age-old adage still holds true: Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
Here's how to get the look.
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