An Ode To Prince (Redux)

Last week we lost someone special. I’m an obsessive Prince fan and have been since I was a child. This year has been awash with celebrity deaths and we’ve lost so many great talents, but this one hit me hard on a personal level. Last year I wrote about Prince in a series of posts about icons. So rather than writing a depressing eulogy or mawkish obituary I thought I’d take the chance to share this piece again because it celebrates Prince’s style rather than just his music. We’ll probably never again hear anyone play guitar like Prince did but we also won’t see anyone who can pull off a bejewelled eye patch or lace catsuit with the ease that Prince did so I’m mourning this loss on a number of different levels. But let’s not get sad, Prince wouldn’t want us to be sad, he’d want us to be funky. RIP Your Purple Majesty.

Prince Rodgers Nelson, better known as Prince, once known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince and briefly known as an unpronounceable squiggle; is a true icon. Not just because he’s a legendary musician with more solid gold hits to his name than most but also because of his truly inimitable style. When people talk about menswear icons you get the same tired old examples regurgitated ad nauseam. Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, some people even consider David Beckham to be a menswear icon (hilarious). But there’s more to fashion than this, much much more. What these men offer is a kind of normcore style that suits everyone’s tastes. Chinos, jeans and leather jackets are great but haven’t we seen all that before?

No-one dresses like Prince, it’s too outlandish for most men, in fact it’s too outlandish for most women too. He cites James Brown and Little Richard as his main musical influences, but I’d wager that Little Richard’s wardrobe had quite an influence too. In a cultural climate that is struggling to achieve a kind of gender equality that is often realised through our clothes it’s prudent to remember that Prince has been wearing high heels and lace bodysuits since the 70’s. I realise that not everyone shares my passion for Prince but even if you do like his music you might not remember some of his most unconventional outfits. I can still remember the shock and awe I felt when he performed Cream on the VMA’s wearing a yellow lace catsuit. That’s a bumless yellow lace catsuit by the way. There’s also the bejewelled eyepatch and ruched silk flares number. Or the chain-mail fringed policeman’s hat. When I started getting really into Prince I’d trawl record shops for old 7 inches and 12 inches – most of which feature rare pictures of Prince in ever more fascinatingly bizarre outfits. At a point you stop and think – how did he get away with this? On the cover of the Dirty Mind album he’s wearing a leather thong and a rain mac. That’s it. Unless you include the heels and rubber suspenders.

Prince is a fashion icon not because we all want to wear what he’s wearing but because he is literally the only person wearing those things. It’s an audaciously unique sense of style, worn with such unwavering confidence that he always manages to look good. Much of what he wears could be considered women’s clothing, but the persona of Prince transcends our perceptions of gender and fashion. Prince always projects an aura of deeply sexual masculinity despite the fact that he’s sporting something you or I would almost certainly be arrested for wearing in public. There are a lot of urban legends about Prince but my favourite is that when he lived in Paisley Park he had seamstresses and tailors living on-site and working 24 hours a day. I imagine he’d wake up at 3am after a particularly erotic dream and run to their quarters to demand they make him a studded purple pleather trench coat. But then if you had the same luxury wouldn’t you do that too?