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.

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.

Dressing the Batdance

Prince’s relationship with the Batman franchise began in the late 1960s where a young Prince learned to tickle the ivories along to the Batman television series theme tune. Fast forward to 1989 – Prince had released Lovesexy the previous year, a euphoric album celebrating positivity after the last minute shelving of the ominous The Black Album.

On the surface the partnership of Prince and the Batman franchise seemed a bit of an odd pairing but Prince, a self professed atypical Gemini, held a personal affinity to duality of Bruce Wayne and was drawn to the dark underworld of Gotham City.

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Time has not been kind to the Batman record with some fans and critics writing it off as a kitschy puff piece. Historically however the album did well in sales and enjoyed six week’s at No. 1 in the Billboard charts in 1989. All in all I’ve got a mega soft spot for the Batman album…okay except The Arms of Orion – I can’t get off the couch fast enough to skip that song (sorry Sheena!). But I’m not here to discuss the music – let’s talk the looks – green marcel waves and all!  I’ll be looking at the following three music videos from the album; Batdance, Partyman and Scandalous.

This town needs an enema!

The album was oddly released before the film’s debut but go figure, that’s pretty much standard Prince. The first single Batdance is an erratic blend of funk, rock and the pioneering use of sound bites from the film with Prince answering back to the film throughout (‘Oh yeah I wanna bust that body right’).  The video is a kitsch love letter to Prince’s Gotham City with Gemini (one of Prince’s many alter egos) in a comic book inspired ensemble and a harem of doppelgänger Kim Basinger’s gyrating round the sound stage. Yes it is as marvellous and ridiculous as it sounds.

The video is directed by Albert Magnolia with costumes by Helen Hiatt and Susan Stella. The real Prince is behind the scenes, chilling in the studio, laying down the track in high waisted corseted genie pants and triumphant blow dry. It’s his own take of Bruce Wayne leisurewear and I’m very here for it. Side note – my Mum and I’s favourite part of this video is when Prince does a cheeky wee hair flip and smile when he sings ‘hey Jackie’ – even better when my Mum’s name is in fact Jackie. But in actual fact he’s saying ‘hey ducky’ and we only just realised this last week – devastating after all these years.

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Prince chilling in the studio in his jumpsuit, Batdance (1989)

I was lucky enough to see the Batdance suit in all its campy glory at the My Name is Prince touring exhibition at the 02, London last year. I remember vividly screaming in a tour guides face as I tried to barge past a blockage of visitors to get a closer look. The vertical divide suit complete with 1 PVC batwing was still as bright and jarring as it appeared in the video. Looking back on the costume now it’s very reminiscent of the ‘half and half’ costumes worn by burlesque dancers in the 1940s and 1950s. Each costume represented opposing characters such as bride/groom, devil/angel and the dancer utilised each persona throughout their number with clever choreography and design detail – just like Prince does in the music video.

The dichotomy of the costume goes hand in hand with Prince’s evil twin, Gemini, who appears in the video as a Paisley Park hybrid of the Joker/Batman. The attention to detail in the outfit is astounding with teeny tiny bat symbols on Prince’s signature cuban heeled boots, I’ve never wanted to steal a pair of shoes so much before! For the Joker side of the costumes there is a huge nod to Jack Nicholson’s depiction of the Joker in the film.

All hail the new king in town!

Gemini returns in Partyman wearing a more traditional tailored suit (no PVC this time around) again in purple and orange. It’s a pinstriped number with sparkly thread running through as an accent detail with opposing fabric covered buttons. The sleeves of the jacket are adorned in Kanji writing – a foreshadow to the Grafitti Bridge premiere and Nude Japan tour looks to come in 1990.  My favourite thing about the suit has to the impeccable tailoring and clever use of buttons throughout. When Gemini spins round on his cuban heels you can see bright orange buttons acting as a cinch at the waist of the jacket. This is further tailored by the extreme cut of the closure of this jacket, again drawing the eye in to that tiny waist with clever use of button detailing – Gemini’s nod to the zoot suit. Costumes were designed by Helen Horatio & Sarah Daubney – ladies if you are out there I would love to see those dress patterns!

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Gemini’s version of a zoot suit – sparkly pinstripes included.

The interesting thing about Prince’s costuming throughout this music video is the emergence of the 1990s silhouette developed throughout the impeccable tailoring of the Paisley Park wardrobe department. With a heavily built up shoulder line with corseted and darted waist with flat fronted closures, Prince was building his ideal silhouette which in turn mimicked that of a hyper version of broad shouldered dames such as Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich. There’s a real correlation between the two here seen below in the heavily tailored suit for the Violet the Organ Grinder video, 1991. We know Prince was a huge Old Hollywood buff so I like to think this was intentional.

Touch it and explode.

Lastly Scandalous sees Prince incredibly parred down with just over of 4 minutes of sensuous air humping, sashaying and dipping his way through the ballad. He’s really feeling himself in this video. He’s opted for an all red ensemble of high brow MC Hammer trousers with cinched waist and corsetry detailing on the centre seams and shoulder padded tank top with mandarin collar (of course). This look mimic the Batdance studio outfit and seems to be Prince’s idea of sweatpants and old band t-shirt you wear to watch Netflix in bed. The trousers in particular are in interesting mismatch of feminine lingerie detailing (the lace-ups) and zoot suit pleating to add volume and shape to Prince’s silhouette.

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Prince in the Scandalous music video, those baggy trousers making that spilt look seamless.

Overall the Batdance record provided us with a myriad of transitional looks from the 1980s to early 1990s…and my Mum’s most favourite hair flip in music video history.