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Francine Dressler's signature character—the topless woman with the bright red lips and dark bob—has been brushing her teeth, eating bananas, and grinning lopsidedly from prints since the '70s. And while the artist has always had her followers, it wasn't until Rachel Antonoff splashed a Francine Dressler illustration across her Fall 2013 collection that the fashion industry really took note.
Now, bolstered by a younger generation's interest in her work, Dressler has enlisted her social-media-savvy daughter Madelyn to open the archives and reissue her drawings on clothing and accessories. "I think of something like Hello Kitty, which has been able to be reinterpreted for high-fashion or commercial," Madelyn says. "It's that kind of longevity we want."
We sat down with the pair to talk about the feminist art scene, Instagram's must-follow illustrators, and why "boobs are trending."
How did you break into the art scene? What were your inspirations and biggest influences at the time?
Francine: I broke into the art scene by doing art fairs because that was the best way for a young artist to be seen. I had a few solo shows, but there weren't that many galleries in Los Angeles like there are now.
I lived with my cousin and began drawing her in a Modigliani style with sloping shoulders, vacant eyes and red lips. Then I lived by myself and became my greatest subject, I suppose they were all self-portraits.
You've been billed as a feminist artist. How do you think that scene has changed since the late '70s/early '80s?
Francine: I think being a free-thinking woman who makes her own choices about her life and her body is as important now as it was then. In my art I tried to convey that woman. In the '70s, I was independent, single and an art lover—besides going braless at times, if that makes me a feminist artist, then sure.
The women in your works look like they're having so much fun. How did you come up with these scenarios? What was your thought process behind works like Incognito and Bananas?
Francine: Yes, I was having a lot of fun back in the '70s. I think there was definitely sexual commentary behind a lot of my drawings, like "Bananas" can be interpreted as phallic—if that's what you want. I spoke a lot about standing out in a crowd and having your own identity, as seen in "Incognito." Life offers a great amount of funny scenarios and instead of writing about them, I'd draw them.
Francine in the '70s.
Madelyn, do you share any of your mother's artistic talent? What is your connection to your mother's work? What role do you play in its resurgence now?
Madelyn: I am artistic but my medium is different than my mom's. I'm a graphic designer, photographer, and art director. I really identify with the women in my mom's artwork—they are independent individuals who evoke a sassy confidence.
I'm the Creative Director of the brand. I've done everything from designing the website and photo shoots to social media and marketing.
What made you both decide to resurrect these works now?
Madelyn: I've grown up with these images. They mean a lot to me, and I've always encouraged my mom to try to get them out there again. I felt they spoke to all generations, and it was something I always wanted to do. Then Rachel Antonoff came forward and this collaboration launched. I thought it would be a really great opportunity to piggyback on that and re-launch the prints now not only as prints, but also silk-screened on apparel.
Madelyn in one of her mother's designs.
How did the partnership with Rachel Antonoff come about?
Madelyn: It was really funny actually—I wasn't familiar with Rachel Antonoff at the time but I knew Lena Dunham, and she directed a fashion film for Rachel's Fall 2013 collection. So that piqued my interest, and I was watching the video, which they filmed at Rachel's home, and I saw one of my mother's prints in the background. I grew up with that print, having it in my home, and it's so crazy to see something like that in someone else's home.
I found another print I thought Rachel would like and I tweeted it at her, like "hey, check this out," and she immediately got back to me and told me to email her. It turned out that my mother's work really meant a lot to Rachel and her brother—the print she had was her grandmother's, they grew up with it. Rachel had found another one of my mother's prints on eBay and got it for her brother for his birthday, and she had been trying to reach my mother to sign it but, you know, she wasn't like easy to Google and find at that point, so it was perfect. That's why I love social media, that we were able to connect like that.
Images from Rachel Antonoff's Fall 2013 lookbook.
How do you plan to bring these works back to life now? What role does style play for you—do you have a set vision for uniting the prints with fashion?
Madelyn: We are continuing to explore different collaborations that merge art and fashion. We want to make Francine Dressler a recognizable name in the same vein as Keith Haring.
We have another print in mind to work with next, "You Brighten My Day," that we want to turn into an all-over print for some different styles. And we do want to get into creating a bag next, lapel pins, accessories – we want to be able to keep reinventing the image. I think of something like Hello Kitty, which has been able to be reinterpreted for high-fashion or commercial. It's that kind of longevity we want.
Who do you think the Francine Dressler customer is today?
Madelyn: We've recognized that boobs are trending and people are taking more risks in what they wear. Francine Dressler is for people who like bold graphic statements with an appreciation for art and humor.
Do you wear your own illustrations?
Francine: My husband, son, daughter and extended family wear them, even my 92-year-old aunt. But as of yet, I haven't dared to wear my name emblazoned across my chest.
Now that you've opened up the archives, are you going to release new drawings?
Francine: Absolutely. I have to say I was very prolific in my twenties and there are many more scenarios of [my signature character] that will be introduced in months to come.
You have a pretty active Instagram—do you follow any artists there?
Madelyn: Yes, Instagram has been a great platform for us to share the archives, lifestyle and behind-the-scenes of Francine Dressler. I've discovered Donald Robertson on Instagram—I love his fashion illustrations and use of unique materials.
What are your biggest hopes for this resurgence? What is it like to see your work getting a new interpretation?
Francine: Most importantly, [my hopes are] having a brand with longevity, a gallery show in LA and NY would be very cool, and getting more stores to sell our apparel.
Stylists have approached us and are interested in dressing their clients in Francine Dressler. We'd love to see this open up opportunities for more exposure.
I'm flattered that it still speaks to this new generation, and that something from 40 years ago can still be relevant. I guess I'm considered vintage-cool now.
· Francine Dressler [Official Site]