New Power Style: Reintroducing The Kid in Graffiti Bridge

This is the first in a two-part series on Graffiti Bridge fashion adapted from my recent paper, ‘New Power Style: Graffiti Bridge, body wear and self-expression’ at the Dirty Mind 40 Graffiti Bridge 30 Virtual Symposium in June 2020.

In 1980, Prince began his revolution, adopting a risqué uniform for his Dirty Mind record consisting of a customised trench coat, bikini briefs, stockings and heels. Ten years later, with the release of his fourth film and corresponding album Graffiti Bridge, the purple provocateur was now dressing for a new spiritual revolution.

Six years on, Graffiti Bridge picks up sorta where Purple Rain left us, with The Kid and Morris Day still bickering over control of the local club scene. Aura – an angel sent from Heaven – visits Seven Corners and that’s when things get really complicated. The film ends up feeling like Prince’s take on Westside Story but with celestial beings. Visually the film looks sensational with Blade Runner inspired lit backlots with piercing neons and gritty alley ways but ultimately Prince’s self directed project falls short for a number of reasons. But that’s not to say you can’t have a really good time watching this film. Graffiti Bridge is interesting from a fashion perspective as it signals a new era in Prince’s career where he is navigating relevancy and evolving spirituality. Along with an emerging fresh sound, what sartorial tactics did Prince use in the reintroduction of both The Kid and himself to a new audience in 1990?

Fashion professor Jennifer Craick states, ‘when pop and rock culture developed in the 1960s, the strategic use of official and quasi-uniforms in the language of radicalism was reinforced. Here the adoption of quasi-uniforms was an effective means to establishing distinctive identities, and recognition and identification with audiences, as well as making social comment and attracting growing media and public interests in this burgeoning phenomenon.’ Prince needed a uniform to start his revolution back in 1980 – this materialised in the DIY punk trench coat and by the time Purple Rain came round his look was crystallised into a merging of varying subcultural references. Following astronomical worldwide success Prince stepped away from his purple visage and began to experiment with silhouette, fabric and colour. Six years after the success of Purple Rain, The Kid appears almost evangelical in comparison, layering monochromatic loose vestments over skin-tight, flesh-baring bodysuits. Percolating alongside the musician’s developing spirituality, the refined New Power style seen in Graffiti Bridge heralded Prince into the new decade.

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The Kid’s costumes aside, Graffiti Bridge visually reflects emerging youth trends of the early 1990s with representations of streetwear, grunge and club kids within Seven Corners. Purple scholar Scott Woods states that Prince’s multiple reinventions were ‘accessorised with new utopias’ and we of course can see that in Prince’s Minneapolis in Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge’s Seven Corners fantasy club hub. There are a lot of similarities between the two films particularly with the focus on youth and sub-cultures in both worlds. Purple Rain saw The Kid dressed in his now iconic New Romantic finery, a sub-cultural style rooted in historical clothing, juxtaposed with glam rock and gender fuck that came to influence mainstream fashion by the mid 1980s. The purple trench coat, ruffled jabot and skin-tight ruched trousers is forever entrenched in our pop culture minds and reflected a hyped version of contemporary subcultures at the time. In comparison the fashion worn by The Kid in Graffiti Bridge represents a personal style more akin to the clothing worn personal by Prince with some garments not even specifically designed for the filming.

Did Graffiti Bridge show a more authentic visual representation of the artist? Was the stripped back fashions an indicator of his maturing spirituality and relationship with God? His visual representation in Graffiti Bridge, although on the surface appears more conventional, it can offer us a more in depth understanding of the artist during this period in his career.

Lay Down Ur Funky Weapon – Introducing The Kid in 1990

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We are re-introduced to The Kid with the opening performance of New Power Generation with Prince demanding his audience to ‘lay down ur funky weapon’ and ‘Ur old fashioned music, Ur old ideas.’ The Kid is dressed head to toe in black, his look heavily layered, each garment cut to expose flesh. First, a loose fishnet long sleeved crop-top which is worn under a skin-tight one-sleeved unitard with self-covered buttons on the sides of the legs. The outfit is finished with a sleeveless cropped tabard, a delicate gold waist-chain and heels. An early rendition of the Love Symbol appears on both the back of the tabard and heels. There is power within this look in the juxtaposition of the traditionally masculine stacked shoulder pads and the soft fluidity of stretch fabric as it cut across his body. A strong angular silhouette compliments the battle-cry of the song New Power Generation. Prince is surrounded by his newly formed band the New Power Generation who mirror Prince’s all black ensemble but are heavily styled with street wear staples such as berets, enormous studded waist belts and an abundance of gold chains. A look not far from the emerging hip-hop scene peppered with references to signature styling from designers Dolce and Gabbana and Versace. This reintroduction to The Kid exuded power and strength and signalled a shift in his music and aesthetics.

The Love Symbol Motorcycle Jacket 

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One of the key garments worn by Prince in the film is the black leather motorcycle jacket. The motorcycle jacket has long been associated with youth and rebellion and is synonymous with the depiction of the ‘outsider’. Following the success of The Wild One, the motorcycle jacket increased in popularity in America during the mid-’50s and enjoyed a revival among the 1960s counterculture and 1970s punk rock scene. In wearing the customised motorcycle jacket, Prince representing the Black rebel but instead of wearing traditional workwear such as blue jeans, underneath he wears skin-tight bodywear.

Harlem Motorcycle Gang

Not just any old battered up motorcycle jacket – garment had been noticeably been augmented to reflect Prince’s unique style with black leather tassels and one absent sleeve. Two gold metal early renditions of the Love Symbol protrude from both the back and sleeve. These symbols were commissioned by Paisley Park with Minnesotan jewellery designer Liz Bucheit discussed the process of mounting the symbol onto the back of the jacket. Initially I wondered if this was a stylistic choice, a type of armour to compliment the traditional masculine toughness expressed with motorcycle leathers but she explained the metal piece was mounted a few inches on top of the garment to stop any oxidisation with the tough leather interior underneath. She also expressed that Prince at the time was into black and gold which explains the unusual gold fastenings and trimmings of the jacket and throughout the film.

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Slightly cropped the jacket is cut close the body and featured an unusual one-sleeved design detail that cast doubts of the jacket’s perceived functionality.Underneath the jacket Prince wears softer, stretch garments – the jacket acting as a protective shell in the streets of Seven Corners. In the place of gang insignia on the back of the jacket was a bold gold metal Love Symbol that literally exuded a few inches of the garment. Mirroring Prince’s fashion worn in Graffiti Bridge, the metal symbols were clean, graphic and bold. Wearing symbols and text upon his body was not unusual for Prince. We are of course aware of his use of simple, clean graphics worn on his body during the Parade, Sign of the Times and Lovesexy eras that are worldwide signifiers for love and positivity. Wearing the Symbol literally embedded into his clothing signalled the importance of the emerging design within his work.

This was also not the first time Prince had worn a motorcycle jacket with variations of the style being worn in previous films Purple Rain and Under the Cherry Moon. There is a distinctive design development from Prince’s early trench coat prototypes of Dirty Mind to the fringed motorcycle jacket. All these garments are key signifiers of youth culture, particularly the rebel and Prince identified with this image throughout the first decade of his career and beyond. By branding the jacket with his emerging symbol, Prince was defining his visual identity for the new decade.

Moschino’s Fright Night

Do you like scary movies and resort wear lines?

As each Moschino collection breaks the internet, designer Jeremy Scott turned to All Hallows’ Eve for inspiration for the brand’s Resort Wear 2020 collection released back in the summer. Of course, Moschino is not the first fashion house to find inspiration in things that go bump in the night. 2019 saw cult horror nods from everyone from Prada (Bride of Frankenstein prints and Wednesday Addams plaits) to Undercover (Suspiria emblazoned overcoats) citing inspiration from the genre. Horror and fashion are becoming increasingly intertwined with the genre influencing everything from blood-soaked runways to garish garments.

Undercover Fall 2019 RTW
Undercover Fall 2019 RTW

The collection features many classic Halloween trick-or-treater tropes such as conical witches hat, capes, plastic masks and devil horns. Under the genre-heavy styling lie a collection of loud party dresses, clean tailoring and throw-back prints. These designs are not meant to form a cohesive design story but do complement and juxtapose each other harmoniously like delving into a well-stocked fancy dress box.

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Photo: Marco Ovando / Courtesy of Moschino

Jeremy Scott is not shy of EXCESS and this collection oozes with Instagram-ready looks, overt pop-culture references & tongue-in-cheek humour. Whilst some may feel Scott relies too heavily on stylistic pastiche, personally, I always look forward to watching a Moschino runway. Not content on his tribute to things that go bump in the night, Scott went one step further and staged his very own scary movie.

Opening with a homage to Scream (1996) and that cream ribbed sweater (forever in infamy, thanks to Casey Becker played by baby-faced Drew Barrymore), the runway kicked into full gear with an army of masked spooks. Naturally, things finished off with an en-masse zombie stagger through the Universal Studios backlots.

Homages to kitsch Scream Queen style staples like the maribou trimmed bed jackets are some of the most successful looks on the catwalk. Sugary-sweet babydolls as outerwear instantly bring to mind Valley of the Dolls (1967) drug-fuelled psychedelic slayings with stacked pastel Mary-Jane creepers. I’ll take one in every colour, please.

Turn of the century fancy dress costumes were recreated in bright jelly-bean shades in co-ordinating separates and overalls. Stylised Halloween inspired shapes like crescent moons, stars, fangs and Frankenstein stitches are dotted throughout the collection.

Clear slick blood-red pea-coats are complimented by jaunty bat wing hats. Patterns are bold, in childlike technicolour with graphic monster and ghouls emblazoned on everything from blazers to Day-Glo backpacks.

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Photo: Marco Ovando / Courtesy of Moschino

Inspiration comes from plastic fantastic Halloween King Ben Cooper who manufactured affordable mass-produced Halloween costumes from the 1930s to the late 1980s. Costumes consisted of from vinyl character smocks and plastic masks and ranged from the classic Universal Monsters to Mr. T. The retro company is now enjoying a resurgence in today’s popular culture thanks to shows like Stranger Things and independent clothing brands such as Vixen by Michelline Pitt collaborating with their archives

Micheline Pitt Devil Skirt
Vixen by Micheline Pitt Ben Cooper Swing Skirt

Ben Cooper assorted masks
Ben Cooper masks

Moschino Resort Wear 2020
Photo: Marco Ovando / Courtesy of Moschino

Speaking of Universal Monsters,  Moschino and Universal City Studios collaborated together a small selection of garments and accessories for the collection which are now currently available on the designer’s website. And I want each and every single one.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

A love letter to the iconic costuming of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Thankfully The Wizard of Oz always seemed to be on ‘council telly’ growing up over Christmas. With no flying snowmen in sight I would still happily take Oz over a rerun of The Snowman (even with the Bowie intro). I have fond memories straining my eyes watching the film on my Grannie’s tiny television, in awe as the screen filled with glorious Technicolor. I’m not the only one who holds the fictional land of Oz dear, the film has continued to top cinema-lovers polls since its revolutionary cinematic release in 1939.

Everyone has their favourite character from the film. For me it was the gleefully villainous Wicked Witch of the West that stole my heart. With just a mere 12 minutes of screen time, actress Margaret Hamilton birthed a screen icon. Each time I revisit Oz there’s nothing I love more than to watch the Wicked Witch of the West and her band of smartly dressed Flying Monkeys torment Dorothy and friends down the yellow brick road. 

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It’s crazy to think The Wicked Witch of the West has been scaring and delighting audiences for over 79 years. She didn’t need ruby-red slippers or a clumsy Scarecrow dance to appeal to audiences. Her overtly cruel, camp performance along with her costuming sealed her fate as one of cinemas most revered baddies. Hamilton’s on screen witch was visually iconic with thanks to the creative makeup from artist Jack Dawn who hand blended the legendary green body paint. Margaret Hamilton endured hours under the painful hot studio lights in the copper based green paint and prosthetics. The role had a lasting effect on the actress, specifically that of a greenish hue that lasted for months after shooting. Styling details such as the long green pointed fingernails echo the eerie long fingers of Nosferatu but also the elegant, fashionably poised manicured nails of the late 1930s. I wonder if she wore Revlon’s Cherries (or how about poppies) in the Snow? Quick reality check – the snow used during the poppies scene was of course everyone’s favourite multipurpose material – Asbestos!

 

 

In contrast to the neatly trimmed cuticles, Hamilton’s brows were brushed upwards and crudely overdrawn. Her green complexion appeared both patchy and caked on in various scenes, never achieving over all opacity in the film. To put it bluntly she was not HD ready. To finish off the look a glorious hairy wart was perched upon Hamilton’s hooked prosthetic chin. To this day what child isn’t terrified of warts and unkempt eyebrows? Nowadays the green makeup of Hamilton’s witch is still viewed as one of the archetypes of the modern witch and has continued to influence the  visualisation of witches in popular culture ever since. 

 

 

 

The Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t always destined to be the green-skinned Margaret Hamilton. The role was originally that of Gale Sondergaard, a 40-year-old actress who originally was dressed in full sequined cowl, body-conscious dress and hat. To complete the character – overdrawn lips, fashionably heavily pencilled arched brows and full false eyelashes.

 

 

At first the film was majorly influenced by the recent Disney hit Snow White and the Seven Dwarves but things quickly went to the darker side. Sondergaard’s glamour ghoul morphed into a drastically dowdier witch with frizzy wig, unflattering prosthetics and gasp…no sequins!

 

 

Ultimately Sondergaard  decided playing the character would do her career no favours and in came along character actress Margaret Hamilton whose favourite book growing up was…you guessed it…The Wizard of Oz.

Head of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Costume Department Gilbert Adrian designed over 3000 costumes for the film. His designs for the Witch have now helped define how we envisage an atypical witch in the twentieth century. Adrian designs were typically extremely ostentatious, evoking high glamour and paying no real close attention to historical accuracy were required. He did not need to worry about realism whilst working on Oz, Adrian had free-reign to design a whole world of colourful costumes fit for Technicolor. Dressed head to toe in black Adrian’s witch was albeit less flashier than the previous sequined cowl for Sondergaard but still had that signature Adrian style.

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The black gown itself was a full length a line gown with detailed leg of mutton sleeves, nipped in waist and laced faux stomacher. It appears that Adrian was inspired by some aspects of 17th century clothing especially in the faux stomacher and trademark conical hat. The hat received the Hollywood treatment with black wool bunting base, steel hopped brim and a sweep of black silk which menaced through the air. The bewitching ensemble was of course finished by a dramatic jet black cape because all witches have to have a cape right?

 

 

Throughout her career Margaret Hamilton held the role dear to her heart, reprising the role several times including an ill-fated episode on Sesame Street. Early tests of the show proved once again children were transfixed with Hamilton, in particular her green face. Despite the overwhelming positive response from the kids, parents were outraged by having a Wiccan women on a children’s show and sadly the episode 0847 never aired.

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Margaret Hamilton and Oscar the Grouch, 1976.

Marilyn and Pucci

The Sixties welcomed a sexual revolution with fashion playing a key role. Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci liberated women from the restrictive clothing of the previous decades with the patent of a revolutionary fabric which was both breathable and wrinkle free. The designer was an avid traveller and knew the importance of wearability in a women’s wardrobe and the innovative fabric became key to his design practice. Pucci’s designs were often simple silhouettes such as shifts, capris and high collared blouses in a variance of loud patterns and colours. The garments were easy to wear and instantly recognisable to the brand with thanks to the iconic, psychedelic prints. From the mid 1950s onwards Pucci was fast becoming a symbol of the fashion forward woman. It was no surprise that some of the eras most famous females such as Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and Jacqueline Kennedy were stepping out in his creations.

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Emilio Pucci ensembles dating from the mid 1950s to late 1960s from the collection of Lauren Bacall at the Museum of FIT.

The designs were modern, chic and effortless with the bold prints echoing youth culture of the time. Garments had the allure of couture but did not come with the hefty price tag with Life magazine quoting in 1964, ‘creations can range from a $2.50 hankie to a $2500 evening dress.’ This variance of accessibility allowed women from middle to upper class backgrounds to wear Pucci.

Prior to the turn of the decade, Marilyn Monroe was famously known for her hourglass silhouette which was amplified by skintight clothing. Her curves were so ample that she urged seamstresses to sew her into garments, reinforcing seams in the process and always requesting for the garment to be made tighter. This was noted most famously on the ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ nude illusion gown created exclusively for the actress by designer Jean Louis in 1962. On screen Marilyn was turning her nose up at the fashionable full skirts of the 1950s – choosing instead to wear body conscious suits and gowns. During the filming of How to Marry a Millionaire Marilyn even went so far to refuse to wear anything full even though her co stars Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall caved in and wore a fuller silhouette. For Marilyn she knew her shape was part of the Hollywood illusion and chose clothing that amplified this.

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Marilyn Monroe wearing a Travilla designer gown for How to Marry a Millionaire in 1953.

 

In her astronomical rise to fame Marilyn’s choice of clothing off camera was not necessarily reflective of her sex symbol status she was fast becoming. She opted for mid-century basics such as capri pants, sweaters and pencil skirts in an often monochromatic palette. In particular Marilyn seemed to have a fondness of houndstooth wearing the pattern throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in trousers, capri pants and swing coats.

Marilyn began wearing Emilio Pucci designs from 1960 until her death on August 5th 1962. The loose silk jersey knit clung to Marilyn’s shape but not in the overtly sexualised manner of the gowns she wore in the years before. Wearing the young, hip designs would be of importance to Marilyn, who at that time was trying to regain her popularity and relevance amongst the newer generations. She did not want to be seen as the dumb blonde she often portrayed on camera and was implicate in her wardrobe choices when off camera to show more authenticity.

It has been noted in several autobiographies that Marilyn’s personal cleanliness could fall behind when the star was under pressure from the studios. She was noted as having a hatred for underwear and a habit of wearing unlaundered clothing. In fact some of clothing existing today has various stains on it including food and makeup. With Pucci’s design being fairly easy to care for whilst appearing effortlessly chic, these garments would be the perfect uniform for Marilyn in the later years of her life.

After a turbulent few years resulting in a two divorces and the formation of Marilyn Monroe Productions Inc. Marilyn began to switch up her style, reverting back to a simpler silhouette and more colourful looks. Along with Pucci, Marilyn also favoured designer Jax who had a store close by to Marilyn’s house in California. Jax designed womenswear basics including snug fitting trousers with a centre back zip and an absence of pockets – enhancing the figure in a restrained, casual manner. The trousers retailed for $60 a pair – a costly price in those days and stars like Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor would snap them up by the rail load. Nancy Sinatra was so fond of Jack Hanson (designer of Jax) creations that she was quoted as saying, ‘the most important men in America are my father, Hugh Hefner and Jack Hanson.’

At the time of her death Marilyn, a fan of buying much loved garments several times over in several colours, had a amassed a colourful collection of Pucci separates, dresses and accessories. A selection of Marilyn personal Pucci collection was sold at Christie’s auction house in 1999.

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Part of the Marilyn Monroe Pucci Collection at The Museum of Style Icons.

Although Pucci prints were vibrant and eye-catching, on hanger  however the garments could appear lifeless. There was no intricate tailoring, no camera ready embellishments – just a simple cut and innovative fabric choice. The designs particularly came to life when Marilyn wore them who exuded an understated chicness whilst retaining her bombshell legacy of the 1950s.

When tasked with selecting Marilyn’s burial outfit, her housekeeper Eunice Murray helped pick out Marilyn’s favourite dress at the time – the green Pucci shift dress with tassel rope belt. The very same dress worn on Marilyn’s trip to Mexico in February of the same year. When a reporter commented on her dress Marilyn quipped, ‘you should see it on the hanger’.

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The green Pucci shift dress, Marilyn’s favourite dress at the time of her passing.