After 30 years in the music business, Prince finally has released his first book. It is bathed, of course, in shades of purple.
The handsome coffee-table tome chronicles an unprecedented 21 nights of sold-out summer performances in London, 2007’s highest-grossing music engagement. “21 Nights” (Atria, $50) captures three weeks of His Highness’ magic on the O2 Arena stage, jamming, grooving, improvising. And then many of the moments behind the show, behind the big, brassy band, behind the fetching, fishnet-wearing twin dancers and into the enigmatic world of Prince. Here, in that other remarkably normal place, fans see the faaabulous Prince stepping out of a car, riding an elevator, chatting on the phone, heading to a club, walking in the rain.
And yet, such everyday, everybody images are somewhat besides the point. This sumptuous collection of photos, poetry and new music, co-created with celebrity photographer Randee St. Nicholas, offers up Prince as a pop-cultural style icon. Yes, she captures intimate moments but Prince’s inimitable, often inexplicable style is the most beautifully realized element in the 124 photographs.
“I wanted this book to look like it would if Italian Vogue decided to devote the entire October issue to covering Prince’s concerts in London,” says St. Nicholas from her home in Los Angeles. “It just made sense to shoot the photos through the filter of fashion because he is a fashion icon.”
In that sense, “21 Nights” is sartorial theater, a dazzling catwalk on paper, the product of Nicholas’ shadowing of Prince and crew throughout London and during a side jaunt to Prague.
In page after page, pose after pose, the book makes a compelling argument that Prince is one of the world’s most dashing rockers. At 50 _ ancient in the world of fleeting fashion trends_he still trades in the commodity of cool, each of his reinventions relevant and of the moment.
Prince’s fashion sensibility, showcased by St. Nicholas in photos shot mostly between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m., is equal parts avant-garde and androgyny; sophistication and flair; whimsy and street, manifested magnificently in custom suits, metal-studded coats, flouncy ruffled shirts, vibrant Derby hats. Among the marquee designers and fashion houses featured: Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Roberto Cavalli and others whose credits are included in a style directory with websites and numbers.
“Prince is finely edited and luxuriously provocative,” says Mark-Evan Blackman, chair of the menswear department at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Prince is a small, long-limbed, proportioned man with a penchant for the royal tones of purple, a natty dresser liberated by disregard _ perhaps disdain _ for trends, as if he never intended to conform. He follows in a tradition of famous men who were not just well dressed but distinctly dressed.
“Quite literally, Prince is one the few celebrities that truly marches to beat of his own drum, regardless of what the rest of the fashion and culture worlds are doing,” says Wendell Brown, senior editor of Esquire magazine. “He is a true reflection of his music, larger than life, outrageous and absolutely not rooted in any familiar trends. He is otherworldly.”
This is a man who somehow captured the strange power of black bikinis and leg warmers; trench coats and Edwardian suits; permed pompadours and, perhaps most famously, lace and stiletto boots.
HIS OWN STYLE
“Particularly in the early years, Prince challenged what is sexy, what is androgynous, what is appropriate, especially as a black man,” Brown says. “He is sort of like Cher in that his style influence and contributions are not as recognized as they should be.”
On album and now CD covers, on film and stage, Prince shows he understands the intoxicating nature of relecting the moment, looking the part.
“He is a fashion statement. Can you think of a single artist that is so closely associated with a color?” says St. Nicholas, who has directed more than 150 music videos, including Prince’s Gett Off. “Here’s the thing: Prince is Prince 24 hours a day. He is on all day, every day. He doesn’t dress up, he is always dressed up.”
Exhibit A: On the 16th day, Nicolas shoots a candid photo of Prince in his suite at The Dorchester after the concert, the aftershow jam session and clubbing. He is impeccable in a custom creme silk suit with bejeweled french cuffs by Chris Beals.
It is 5:33 a.m.
St. Nicholas has worked with Prince for more than two decades, even directing his 1991 music video for “Get Off.”
“He called one day and said we should do a book. He told me to come up with an idea,” says St. Nicolas, who has photographed artists from Neil Diamond to Diddy.
She says Prince’s concert run, which grossed $22 million, was the perfect backdrop for the book.
“Prince is elusive, but I knew he would be in London for a while doing the shows so I would have the opportunity to spend some real time with him,” she says. “It was a great time for the book. He was breaking records and in a fashion-forward city, and tons of people were discovering him for the first time.”
Prince told USA Today he simply wanted to preserve a moment in music history.
“I wanted to document something that was never done before,” he said. “I don’t expect that record to be broken unless I break it.”
With the book, fans also get “Indigo Nights/Live Sessions,” the CD available only with the book, a jazz, rock, hip-hop-fused collection featuring 15 cuts. The 77-minute soundtrack was recorded at the Indigo club where he performed his gigs after the concerts.
Readers are also treated to poetry by Prince_abstract monologues written in the same vein of his lyrics, that cover the familiar territory of love and lust, war and greed.
“The hope is that with the images and the CD and the words,” St. Nicholas says, “you get the full Prince experience.”