Saturday, 7 May 2016

Dressing Like Prince (A Guest Post)

Whenever I think of my fabulous fairy-godmother Soma, I picture her clothes. Always immaculate, ever-so-glamorous, and perfectly her. She is queen of velvet, sequins and perfectly cut Ghost dresses. Over the years, she's added many riches (and a relish for champagne) to my life. There have been good outfits, great company, rigorous conversations, and the odd, joyous evening of martinis and dancing - not to mention some key moments of holding out a hand to my family when times felt dark. When news of Prince's death emerged, she was the first person I thought of. We mourned Bowie together earlier this year with a decadent night in Soho, and I knew that Prince was her other lodestar - another brilliant, convention-defying creator with an extraordinary wardrobe and energetic, honest lyrics. Given that I am deep in my final fortnight of university, with exams roaring towards me scarily quickly, it seemed fitting to give some space here for Soma's voice - alongside her visual homage to Prince, in full, purpled glory. She has deeply influenced my understanding and celebration of dressing up, and here, in turn, is someone who did that for her. I hope you enjoy her guest post.. 

Kinda, sorta my best friend: why I dress like Prince

When I was 9 or 10, playing truant and reading Shakespeare in the bushes, Prince burst onto television screens and into my heart with ‘When Doves Cry’.  The song was accompanied by a video of a creature, in silks, frills and eye-liner, vrooming out of suburbia on a purple motorbike, his lover riding pillion, heading for woods, water, sunlight.

In ‘When Doves Cry’, a voice combining man, woman and beast sings of lovers flying from a pattern of inherited family abuse.  The city - funk, clubbing, the motorbike - is fused with Nature.  The lovers become birds, the percussive phrasing beating like wings.  “Maybe you’re just like my mother/She’s never satisfied/Why do we scream at each other/This is what it sounds like/When the Doves Cry.”  The song grasps at a tentative, tortured freedom that comes not from destroying the past but from recognising one’s roots and absolving them. 

I knew the set-up only too well: the needy mother, the hot-tempered father and the desire for a bond with a friend against the hostile “world so cold”.  With a chorus that repeats like a Greek tragedy, a virtuoso guitar tethered to a funk beat, disco keyboards punctuated by Prince’s screaming dove, ‘When Doves Cry’ has a push-pull effect.  It had me half out of the bushes but also burrowing deeper into their smoke and rustle. 

Like most of Prince’s music, ‘When Doves Cry’ blurs funk, rock and cabaret.  His clothes did the same.  Silk, velvet, cut-away, crop and lace, accessorized with satin heels, he glowed like a girl while retaining the swagger of double-breasted jackets, heavy cuffs, trench coats.   In 2016, it was psychedelic Nehru jackets and 60s tunics.  He married edge with softness, sleaze with regality.  Now living in the Welsh Marches, I pursue impractical ruffles, embroidery and slink: a sartorial twinning of power and romance.

It’s an index of how we conform our bodies to market rules that Prince’s height is mentioned so often, as if greatness in a petite male frame does not add up.  Prince embraced his body (often literally).  Performing ‘American Woman’ alongside statuesque Lenny Kravitz, Prince, swiveling in a skintight, blue catsuit, is electrifying.  It’s like watching an eel outswim a whale.  Prince plays with physical limits.  He’s the only commercially successful male pop artist with a female alter ego, Camille.  On ‘Sign O’ The Times,’ his ‘dance twin’, Cat, poses as Prince in a mini skirt – a visual merging of male and female.   He made her carry a heavy mirror to recreate his muscular arms. 

Prince found freedom – the freedom to relate, to forgive, to become one – by escaping name, form, gender.  He preferred to collaborate with women.  3rdeyegirl, his last band, sport tassels, braids and big guitars.  In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2014, Prince said, “We’re in the feminine aspect now… men have gone as far as they can, right?”

Some people will tell you that Prince is ‘rude’.  Prince addresses this himself irresistibly in ‘Controversy’.  Prince is not simply ‘about’ sex; he is about emotional honesty.  “Some people call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black and white/I wish there were no rules.”  In the longer version, he then chants the Lord’s Prayer while you sweat on the dance-floor.  ‘Controversy’ was the first Prince vinyl I loaned to Rosalind.  She was leaving our shared green hills for Oxford.  I was just recovering from being disabled by pregnancy and starting to go clubbing again.  It’s the best funk anthem to individuality, within a framework of loving others.  

Prince made it okay to be me.  I met my idol and shared a stage with him - but that’s another story (you can read it here).  For the rest of my life, and his – when I sang ‘Adore’ for him in a local church on a pagan site after his death – I dressed like him.  His style, like his music, is elaborate, vulnerable and bold.  In, ‘When you were mine,’ Prince tells an ex-girlfriend he can’t quit, ‘You were kinda, sorta my best friend … I used to let you wear all my clothes.’  Prince, I’m always going to wear you.

It was a pleasure and privilege to have Soma write this for me, as it is to know her generally. And I'll be back, soonish! The sweetness of freedom is tantalisingly close. In the meantime, I hope you're all doing some damn fabulous dressing up too. If you want to keep up with what I'm up to (ahem, doing to procrastinate), I'm on Instagram more regularly at the moment. 


Serena S. Madhouse said...

An amazing tribute to a great artist! He really would have appreciated this beauty and glamor!

Ivana Split said...

what a treat it is to meet Soma! Dressing up as Prince and embracing his boldness is such a wonderful tribute to Prince...she looks fantastic!...and the text is brilliant. I loved Prince music but I never thought about it in great dept (that metaphor of Greek chorus was very interesting), so this was a joy to read!!! Visually there was something about Prince that always made me want to hug him, I always had this feeling that he must be a very sweet person. I can't say that he was my idol but I did admire his and Bowie's determination in not letting the world define us by our gender.


What a pleasure to read. Prince's death, like Bowie was a great loss --- I can still remember where I was when I think of certain songs from both artists. Although for me Bowie was a heavier influence for my artistry, Prince was very inspiring and I always enjoyed his music, honesty, and that he kept his life private. In a world where everyone over shares, I definitely appreciate other people who want to keep their privacy. Lovely to meet your stylish fairy-godmother, Soma. It makes complete sense why she would guest post on your space.

Izzy DM said...

This was so interesting and inspiring. I didn't know Prince had a female alter ego! Coincidentally, I only became a fan of his a few days before his death. (I also posted about Jim Harrison's new book a day before HE died. Am beginning to feel cursed.) I was binge-watching New Girl on Netflix and caught Prince's episode. There was so something so magical about him, something that lifted the characters out of the ordinary script, that transcended scripts. His energy was magnetic.

What a lovely fairy godmother you have.

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