Christopher Tracy’s Fashion Parade: A Film by Prince

Fans of His Royal Badness often hold Under The Cherry Moon as Prince’s most successful foray into the silver screen with thanks to the iconic Parade (1985) soundtrack, flamboyant wardrobe and the unforgettable pairing of Christopher Tracy (Prince) and Tricky (Jerome Benton).  A complete departure from Purple Rain both visually and thematically, Under The Cherry Moon takes Prince, his Paisley Park alumni and well-established Hollywood actors such as Steven Berkoff and Kirsten Scott-Thomas (in her film debut) on a psychedelic European adventure. The film examines an interracial relationship that questions society’s preconceived perception of wealth, social class and love.

Prince plays the part of Christopher Tracy, an international playboy who travels across the French Riviera, stealing hearts and stashing cash alongside his loyal companion Tricky. Tracy runs around the coast in cuban heels seducing diplomat wives, daughters and mistresses until he meets debutante Mary Sharon (Kristen Scott-Thomas) and everything changes. Very much the odd couple, Christopher pursues Mary in an attempt to break her free from her trust fund and over-protective father.

Under The Cherry Moon allowed Prince the chance to direct his first feature length film following a dispute with director Mary Lambert early into the project. Slated at that time, the film now enjoys cult-like status amongst Prince fans and film fans alike. Unlike the tangible energy of real life Minneapolis club, First Avenue (Purple Rain), the film’s location in Nice, France seems alien to the film. The film lies somewhere in between eras, treading the line between European jazz babies of the 1920s and the clinical, corporate power dressers of mid 1980s America. This anachronism perfectly sums up the, at times, chaotic script, character motives and dialogue, but Prince somehow makes it work.

Whilst Purple Rain is semi-sort of-autobiographical, Under The Cherry Moon allows Prince to exercise his infamous comedic skills (see Youtube for a series of Prince’s infamous gag reels). In fact it is the slapstick comedy played effortlessly throughout by Christopher and Tricky that really lifts the film. Watching the film you can tell both Prince and Benton had the time of their lives vamping it up for the cameras. Prince loved classic cinema and the film was a love letter to actors like Harold Lloyd, Rudolph Valentino and dancer Josephine Baker. Some of the vintage fabric used for the costumes were sourced from the old Paramount Studio costume warehouse lot (I know!) which compliments the films homage to Old Hollywood.

If you’ve seen any of Prince’s films you’ll be well aware he’s no Jimmy Stewart but he can captivate the audience, with the Village Voice proclaiming in 1986, ‘the flaming creature who calls himself Prince may be the wittiest heterosexual clown since Mae West.’ The relationship between Christopher and Tricky proves more tangible and believable onscreen than that of Christopher and Mary’s flawed romance and it is that relationship that the viewer is invested in throughout the film. This does not sour the picture at all, instead it allows the film to explore a non-traditional relationship of two African-American men that may or may not be more than bosom buddies.

Costume designer Marie France was enlisted in bringing Prince’s second feature length film to life with an array of impressive costumes. This was not an easy feat. Prince’s previous film, Purple Rain was a global phenomenon, something that was a surprise to just about everyone except Prince. The iconic costumes worn throughout the film helped create and define the star’s archetypal look; that of a studded purple trench coat, ruffled jabot shirt and obscenely tight high-waisted button trousers. So what came next for the Purple One?

Well…you guessed it…crop tops, brocade and ornate beaded masks of course.

Perhaps the decision to shoot the film in black and white hindered the costumes impact on popular culture. The rare photos that exist of production show glorious lace, lustrous paisley prints, lamé and embellishment in full technicolor and that was just Prince’s wardrobe.  Probably the most well known outfit linked to the film is the black crop top and high-waisted trousers with oversized white buttons. This look was worn during Christopher Tracy’s casual days – kind of like when we wear our gym leggings and worn out band t-shirt to pop out to Tesco except he accessorised his with Ray Bans, a rhinestone encrusted leather jacket and hip chain. Prince had a fondness for his ‘comfies’, something that can be charted in his personal style throughout the years. Movement was of utmost importance to him and fabrics had to breathe and allow him movement during his energetic performance hence a lot of body-conscious stretch materials.

Christopher Tracy also had his ‘work’ clothes – his high-octane gigolo glamour, that could be defined as unconventional tailoring. Prince wears a classic black tuxedo with satin lapels and bow tie during the Girls & Boys scene in the film. He deconstructs the typical masculine appeal of the suit with defined finger waves and lashings of eyeliner. The suit is not majorly altered from a typical off rack garment except perhaps the heavily sculpted shoulder pads in the tuxedo jacket. Prince wears another suit in the film, one much more akin to Prince’s flamboyant style and could be argued as an anti suit. Composed of swirly damask fabric the suit is draped across the body. The arms of the jacket softly swoop down and hang freely in an exaggerated gentle point. In fact, the suit jacket is almost a semi-structured blouse with soft tailoring and extreme length. The trousers are reminiscent the high-waisted designs worn previously in matching metallic hued fabric and brassy buttons.

Fun fact. The white coat, a copy of a vintage 1940s overcoat loved by Prince, was produced in high quality cashmere, the very same white cashmere used for religious garments designed for the Pope

Through fashion, music and film Prince slashed boundaries, opening up conversations of how black male musicians can dress, create and act. Film allowed Prince’s flamboyant sartorial style to come alive on screen and Under The Cherry Moon is a snapshot of Prince’s Parade at that point in his life.

 

With great thanks to costume designer Marie France for her sharing her experiences on the set of Under The Cherry Moon.

 

by Casci Ritchie

Casci Ritchie is an independent dress historian specialising in fashion, film and consumer cultures. Her true great loves – film and fashion – began when she watched her first film noir, The Big Sleep, as a teenager and fell in love Bacall and Bogie hook line and sinker. Some of her favourite films include Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Beetlejuice, Double Indemnity and Cry Baby. You can find her over on Twitter at @CasciTRitchie & her blog www.casciritchie.com.

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