Black Fashion Week MN gives a nod to Prince as a fashion icon

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The way Debbie McGuan remembers it, working for Prince is like living in a world of constant creativity.

Prince hired McGuan as one of his designers after he took a chance and sent a letter with a sketch of a costume idea to the studio of music icon Chanhassen. The sketch caught the attention of the Prince’s wardrobe director. And the next thing McGuan knew, he was on a plane from his hometown of Chicago and headed to Minneapolis to meet the Prince.

“We talked and walked around Paisley Park,” McGuan said. “He’s already given me a project.”

Prince asked McGuan to sketch ideas for the song “Endorphinmachine” for the upcoming album “Gold Experience.”

“They would send me a cassette and I had to make this whole imaginary story for the band members,” he said.

After that, “non-stop. I deliver all the time and get feedback from the wardrobe director,” she says.

McGuan, who studied fashion at the Art Institute of Chicago and studied art in France, will be in town this week as the main guest speaker for MN Black Fashion Week.

While working for Prince from 1993 to 2007, McGuan sent 15 to 20 sketches to Paisley Park each week. Sometimes he makes storyboards, sometimes he designs head-to-toe ensembles. Some of his ideas were given the green light, albeit regularly with adjustments, and the internal wardrobe department would then bring them to life.

“He [Prince] very fashion conscious and sees fashion and knows what she wants, but very open,” she said. “Sometimes she wants to be inspired by something but it’s made in a different color. Or it’s, ‘Use this vibe, but change it up and maybe make sleeves like this.'”

McGuan created several iconic pieces for the singer-songwriter, including a white jumpsuit with a glyph sewn on the front when her employer was Artist Previously Known as Prince.

“With the name change, it created a symbol that would be worn on many of her outfits,” McGuan said. “It was a really exciting time to come up with these shapes and silhouettes and then put the symbols down [on a zipper or buttons of his jacket].”

She also helped design what she calls the mid to late ’90s look of colorful silk suits and shirts.

For McGuan, returning to Paisley Park would be something of a homecoming.

“It was the best job. I gave it my all and I loved it,” he said. “He just challenges you to be creative because that’s what he does with his fashion and music and thinks ahead,” he said.

He said having Prince wear his designs was a sensation.

“When you see her rocking a denim jacket with all this trim and how she wears it, it’s a completely different thing with her energy,” she said. “That’s when he really came alive.”

For his talk, which is part of the “Design of the Times” opening for MN’s Black Fashion Week, McGuan plans to show off some of his favorite Prince outfits. The event which will be held at Paisley Park will be filled with fashion shows and music.

“This is history being made because it was the first fashion show ever to be held there,” said MN Black Fashion Week founder Natalie Morrow. “Prince is a fashion icon, so it fits.”

Here’s the lineup for Black Fashion Week MN:

Tickets for BFWMN are available at, except Design of the Times,

Design Time: Fashion show, panel discussion with guest designer Debbie McGuan and after-party VIP. 7 nights May 11 $50-$200. Paisley Park, 7801 Audubon Road, Chanhassen.

Rooftop Mode: Design by NSOD Clothing, Scissors, and Sass & Energy Gear. 15:00 May 14. $25-$60. Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery, 1256 Penn Av. N., Mpls.

Grace Show Fashion Wardrobe: 3 pm May. 15. $20. Emery, Signature Collection, 215 S. 4th St., Mpls.

Black Girl Magic Fashion Show: Featuring Designers Aert Fashion, EtheReal, Lesley Helen and Kendoll Designs. May 19 at 19:00. $25-$65. W Minneapolis — The Foshay, 821 Marquette Av. S., Mpls.

Black Men’s Magic Fashion Show: 19 May 20. Mercedes-Benz from St. Paul, 2780 Maplewood Drive, Maplewood. $40.

Melissa Walker contributed to this report.

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