As is the case with big thinkers, fashion designer, artist, and LA native Francine Dressler was ahead of her time when, back in the ’70s, she created a meme-like series of hand-drawn illustrated prints. Together, the prints make up a comical, nonlinear, LA-based narrative, whose nameless heroine Dressler describes as, “both liberal and sassy, frequently displaying bare breasts, large grins, and red lips.” But beyond the ink outlines and acrylic paint, Dressler was interested in exploring the anxiety of individuality, or, as she puts it, “‘How do you stand out in a crowd?’ or ‘What makes you special or unique?’” As a result, most of the illustrations depict her in multiples — either a triptych, as in Bananas, which could pass for a stop-motion sequence of a woman eating a banana, or in a Where’s Waldo-like mass of tessellating clones that could double as wallpaper. In the latter case, specifically in the print I’ll Be Wearing a Red Carnation, she stands out against her colorless copies with her signature grin, but also with a red carnation pinned to her left breast.
A collaboration with Rachel Antonoff was pretty much inevitable, and it arrived for a ’70s-themed S/S 2014 season, featuring Dressler’s iconic prints in a repeating pattern on polo shirts, hat brims, slippers, rompers, and shift dresses. Building on momentum, Dressler decided to dust off the prints that she had been carefully keeping in her art drawers, and with daughter Madelyn Somers (bowtie extraordinaire of Tycoon Neckwear), the two recently launched old classics such as Three Women Show, Summer In The City, and Incognito onto t-shirts, tank tops, posters, prints, and pins for sale on Dressler’s website.
How did the idea for these prints originate? Did you [Dressler] go to school for art or fashion?
Somers: She went to Los Angeles Trade Technical College in downtown LA, got a degree in fashion design and fine art, and then started her own fashion label.|
Dressler: I began drawing this funny lady with a sheepish grin in my sketchbook — and bare breasts emerged naturally through the process. I’ve always loved a good and witty sense of humor, and I think she kept my interest because there was always a funny situation I wanted to convey [through her]. I had prints made from my original ink drawings, then I would hand paint them with acrylic paint, posters to commemorate gallery shows that I was in. I am still hand painting the prints that I sell today.
I’m curious about artistic influences. The woman in the prints is a really unique character, but her overall aesthetic reminded me of Willem de Kooning’s Woman series, Pop art, feminist art, even the Rolling Stones.
Somers: She was really influenced by the music of the decade. I think feminism was important to [Dressler], but I don’t think that was the inspiration behind her art. People read into it however they want, and that’s wonderful, but I wouldn’t say my mom was an active feminist. She was just independent, and single, and loved art. I think she really enjoyed drawing someone with curves. I know she was really inspired by the Modigliani style of women who had long necks and no eyeballs and her style evolved from there. David Hockney was a big inspiration, and always Andy Warhol. Also Basquiat and Keith Haring, but those were a little later on.
It’s so amazing that [Dressler] was living alongside those artists. Was location also significant?
Somers: Her art was very influenced by her time growing up in LA. She grew up in a part called Westchester, and she spent most of her time in LA except for a short stint living in Hawaii. She was really inspired by living there in her twenties. She was single, and dated around, and was content, and she always found humor in things — even brushing her teeth, just everyday activities. A lot of inspiration also came from the way her cousin, who she lived with at the time, looked. My mom and her cousin only wore red lipstick, and I think they also had the same pageboy haircut that was popular. It’s funny, because if you look at my mom now, she literally resembles that woman in her paintings. [laughs] My mom definitely has the same haircut now, and her boobs are the same size. [laughs]
The scenes are very specific and distinctive — how did you [Dressler] think of them?
Somers: I think there was definitely sexual commentary behind a lot of those, like the bananas the women are eating are supposed to be phallic [in Bananas]. [laughs] The women packed in the sardine [in Something’s Fishy] can could be about having your period.
Dressler: I made up different brand names in my drawings, such as ZAZ toothpaste. In one print, the “Candied Cigs” label was a nod to the candy of the 50’s — I remember drawing her and thinking can you still have attitude if it is just candy? It was all part of her world.
How did you both decide to relaunch the prints now?
Somers: I’ve grown up with these prints. 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 don’t think it ever occurred to my mom to make a fabric out of the prints, so it was cool to have them repeated all over clothes. I thought it would be a really great opportunity to piggyback on that and relaunch the prints now.
Dressler: Madelyn came up with the idea of silk-screening my prints onto tees and tanks. We did a small run and put together an intimate re-launch of the apparel, prints, and posters and invited friends and family. The enthusiasm made us think this would appeal to more than just our close circle, and soon after we launched our website, francinedressler.com.
Why do you think the prints have remained iconic?
Dressler: The images seem to attract everyone and all ages as they did when I created them People still love her sassy attitude, the loose line, and she is timeless and as relevant as she was in the 70’s.
Somers: I just think the message behind them is so universal and powerful, and the imagery is so straightforward. I know Lucille Ball owned a print, and Richard Simmons. My mom once saw someone cut out a part of a newspaper a long time ago, and it was of a girl walking down the street, naked and wearing a red carnation. This was after she had [created the I’ll Be Wearing a Red Carnation print], and my mom was like, “I wonder where she got that carnation.”
You can pick up Francine Dressler’s iconic prints in the BULLETT Shop.