Keith Haring Lives On: How the Pop Artist Influenced Fashion

Nicholas Kirkwood's Keith Haring collection
(Courtesy Black Frame)

The first large-scale exhibition dedicated to the early career of Keith Haring opens today at the Brooklyn Museum, but back in the ’80s you didn’t need to go to a museum or gallery to see the late pop artist’s work. If you bumped into Haring in those days, he might have felt inspired enough to scrawl his signature characters on your shoes or T-shirt. In 1984, budding pop star Madonna wore a custom Keith Haring hot pink jacket and skirt while performing “Dress You Up” at his birthday party at the Paradise Garage. Haring’s bold black lines, a mash-up of tribal-esque curves and zigzags mixed in with his characters, brought the singer’s outfit to life. Haring even opened the Pop Shop on Lafayette Avenue in New York to hawk his wares.  

“It’s amazing how Keith basically customized anything that walked into his line of sight, from shoes to pants, people — everything and just the way he kind of applied his art — he made it very accessible and real,” said designer Jeremy Scott in a promotional video for his Adidas collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation, which supports AIDS and children’s charities.

Even now fashion is still influenced by Haring’s playful pop illustrations. Designers and labels including Patricia Field, Scott, Zara, Nicholas Kirkwood, Levi’s, and Tommy Hilfiger constantly collaborate with the Keith Haring Foundation on lines of clothing and accessories, putting the artist’s work on display using people as moving gallery walls. Some designers put a fresh spin on the artist’s work by merging it with their own aesthetic, while others simply throw a Haring drawing on a bikini or T-shirt. And musicians still follow Madonna’s lead: pop star Justin Bieber and rapper Lil Wayne have worn Haring items on stage.

Scott, who also made a Haring leather jacket for the clothing brand Schott, began putting the artist’s drawings on Adidas sneakers, leggings, and tracksuits in 2006. In the video, he said that he thought he could “breathe some new life into [Haring’s work] through my vocabulary using his textile print and doing something that could be bringing it to a new audience or bringing it back up to date.”

Last year, British shoe designer Kirkwood created a capsule collection with the foundation. He turned a Haring character into a heel for one, and covered a black Haring pattern all over another. “I saw so many shapes within Keith Haring’s artwork that I thought could translate in a really beautiful way on to a shoe,” Kirkwood told

Not everyone can afford to own an original Haring, but for much less you can have a bit of Haring in your wardrobe and wear his art on the streets.

Click on the slide show to see Keith Haring fashion collaborations.