The way Debbie McGuan remembers it, working for Prince was like living in a world of constant creativity.
Prince hired McGuan as one of his designers after she took a chance and sent a letter with sketches of costume ideas to the music icon’s Chanhassen studio. The sketches caught the attention of Prince’s wardrobe director. And the next thing McGuan knew, she was on a plane from her hometown of Chicago and heading to Minneapolis to meet with Prince.
“We talked and we walked around Paisley Park,” said McGuan. “Already he was giving me a project.”
Prince asked McGuan to sketch an idea for the song “Endorphinmachine” for the upcoming “Gold Experience” album.
“They were going to send me a tape and I had to come up with this whole imaginary tale for the band members,” she said.
After that, “it was nonstop. I was submitting stuff all the time and getting feedback from the wardrobe director,” she said.
McGuan, who studied fashion at the Art Institute of Chicago and studied art in France, will be in town this week as a featured guest speaker for a Black Fashion Week MN event.
While working for Prince from 1993 to 2007, McGuan sent 15 to 20 sketches to Paisley Park weekly. Sometimes she created storyboards, other times she designed head-to-toe ensembles. Some of her ideas were given the green light, albeit routinely with tweaks, and an in-house wardrobe department would then bring them to life.
“He [Prince] was very aware of fashion and looked at fashion and knew what he wanted, but was very open,” she said. “Sometimes he would like the inspiration of something but made in a different color. Or it was, ‘Use this vibe, but change it and maybe make the sleeves this way.'”
McGuan created some iconic pieces for the singer-songwriter, including a white jumpsuit with a glyph sewn on the front for when her employer was the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
“With the name change, it was creating symbols that would be put on a lot of his clothes,” McGuan said. “It was a very exciting time to come up with these shapes and silhouettes and then put the symbol [on a zipper or buttons of his jacket].”
She also helped devise what she calls his mid-to-late-’90s look of iridescent and silk-screened suits and dress shirts.
For McGuan, returning to Paisley Park will be a homecoming of sorts.
“It was the best job. I gave it my all and I just loved it,” she said. “He just challenged you to be creative because that’s what he did with his fashion and music and thinking ahead of the times,” she said.
She said having Prince wear her designs was a thrill.
“When you see him rocking a denim jacket with all these embellishments and how he wears it, it’s a whole different thing with his energy,” she said. “That’s when it really came alive.”
For her talk, which is part of the “Design of the Times” kickoff event for Black Fashion Week MN, McGuan plans to have some of her favorite Prince pieces on display. The event, which will be held at Paisley Park, will include a fashion show and music.
“It’s history being made because this is the first fashion show that’s ever been held there,” said Black Fashion Week MN founder Natalie Morrow. “Prince was a fashion icon, so it’s fitting.”
Here’s the lineup for Black Fashion Week MN:
Design of the Times: Fashion show, panel discussion with guest designer Debbie McGuan and VIP after-party. 7 p.m. May 11. $50-$200. Paisley Park, 7801 Audubon Road, Chanhassen.
Fashion on the Rooftop: Designs by NSOD Clothing, Scissors, and Sass & Energy Gear. 3 p.m. May 14. $25-$60. Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery, 1256 Penn Av. N., Mpls.
Closet of Grace Fashion Show: 3 p.m. May. 15. $20. Emery, Autograph Collection, 215 S. 4th St., Mpls.
Black Girl Magic Fashion Show: Featuring Designers Aert Fashion, EtheReal, Lesley Helen and Kendoll Designs. 7 p.m. May 19. $25-$65. W Minneapolis — The Foshay, 821 Marquette Av. S., Mpls.
Black Man Magic Fashion Show: 7 p.m. May 20. Mercedes-Benz of St. Paul, 2780 Maplewood Drive, Maplewood. $40.
Melissa Walker contributed to this report.