Prince’s risqué, provocative point of difference and powerful image paid off and Prince became one of the first black artists – along with Michael Jackson – to land heavy play on MTV, a move that sealed his commercial success. “I don’t think any artist before had used that level of sex to get in the door and be accepted by the mainstream” wrote Questlove of The Roots, in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists tribute (Prince was ranked at 27). “I wonder what his mind state was in 1981, standing onstage in kiddie briefs, leg warmers and high heels without a number one hit. That was a risk.”
Less is more
Equally at ease in his birthday suit (as the sleeves for his eponymous second album and Lovesexy both attest) as in sequins, furs and multi-layered lace – his Purple Rain-era outfit for the 1985 American Music Awards would have found favour with Liberace – Prince didn’t do dull. And the same sartorial effort was expected of his band, The Revolution. “Prince was tired with the costumes I was coming up with. He sent his girlfriend down to the hotel room I was in, and she knocked on the door and she sweetly came in and dumped this bag of metallic, multi-coloured underwear on my bed – bra and panties, basically – and said, ‘Prince said wear this or you’re fired’,” recalled Gayle Chapman, keyboardist from 1978 to 1980.
Mixing virility and femininity, his bare chest often a centrepiece, Prince nonetheless radiated pheromones. “People say I’m wearing heels because I’m short,” said the pint-size (5ft 2in, 1.57m) performer. “I wear heels because the women like ’em.” A flip through his photo album sees an array of funky bell-bottoms, polka-dots galore, and a run of garish metallic body wrappings to rival a Quality Street tin. Silhouettes oscillated between crop tops and high-waisted bodycon trousers to elongate the body, showcasing his ever-trim physique, and long strong-shouldered power-dressing jackets creating the illusion of a bigger frame.
Top of the fops
As eclectic as his musical offerings, Prince’s wardrobe also included Freddie Mercury-style nipple-baring leotards, offset by blow-dried locks, an asymmetric hoop earring and a purple sequinned hooded cape that he wore to the Oscars in 1985 where he won the Academy Award for original song score for Purple Rain. (Never knowingly understated, Prince pulled up to the event in a purple limo escorted by some 20 uniformed security men on motorcycles, according to a report in People magazine.) And once seen, the bottom-baring yellow laser-cut suit worn for his performance of Gett Off at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1991 can never be forgotten – Lady Gaga, eat your heart out.