In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, the yearly advent of a new Prince album brought with it a visual image as strong and defining as the music contained within. “I wear what I want because I don’t really like clothes,” he lied once, in a rare interview. Like David Bowie, Prince toyed with the ideas of the “other”: the feminine, the alien, the raceless. Through costume and artwork, he created the Prince that became iconic: the wistful flâneur with Egyptian-style eyeliner.
This European romantic look cut through his band, the Revolution, but also his associates, such as Sheila E and the Family. Musically, he was generous with his talent and his proteges were many. He liked doubles, multiples of himself and these proteges sartorially mirrored his stylistic changes: silk camisoles for Vanity 6, zoot suits for the Time. On his 1988 Lovesexy tour, his polka-dot suits were colour matched by the complementary bodycon outfits of dancer Cat and Sheila E, which were proto-Henry Holland.
As one of the biggest pop stars in the world, Prince brought a new conversation about gender to fashion. He wore high heels and lace gloves, making the world think about how a man or a woman should dress, pushing the boundaries of taste and acceptability. As singer Frank Ocean highlighted in his tribute: “He made me feel comfortable with how I identify sexually simply by his display of freedom from and irreverence for the archaic idea of gender conformity.” A noted influence on Donatella Versace, Tommy Hilfiger and Matthew Williamson, Prince also directly and indirectly influenced the look of Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, D’Angelo and Justin Bieber. Prince ignited the conversation about gender that we are still having today.